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EDGAR ALLAN POE 

A CRITICAL STUDY 

BY 

ARTHUR RANSOME 



NEW YORK 

MITCHELL KENNERLEY 

MCMX 

v i 



1910 



TO 
MY WIFE 



255444 



PREFACE 

POE is a writer whose work has come to mean 
something quite different from himself. He has 
been hidden by a small group of his writings. The 
bulk of his work is covered away under a mantle 
of the iridescent colouring of his tales. The popu 
lar conception of him is so narrow and powerful 
that it has made of him a legendary Faust, and it is 
hard for us to say " Yet art thou still but Faustus 
and a man," and, lifting that brilliant, shining 
mantle, to unveil the real astrologer. There is 
this traditional Poe to blind our eyes, and there 
is also the hero of a new morality play, where 
Art is Life, Beauty is Virtue, and Public Opinion 
is the Devil. Baudelaire, and cheap editions of 
his works, which take account only of his tales, 
and, among them, of a single group alone, 
combine to obscure him. 

It would not be surprising if Poe had been 
labelled out of existence, or fallen into a general 
contempt. This is far from being the case. 
Many are ready to discuss him, and to betray in 
discussion the fact that they have not troubled 

vii 



PREFACE 

to examine the subject of their argument. H 
is praised and blamed for such details as th 
talkers happen to have noticed in passing 
Different men see in him momentary reflectior 
of themselves, and, becoming interested, ai 
disappointed to find that he has other facets o 
which their image does not fall. He compels 
respect to which, as an artist, he is not entitle< 
so that those of his admirers who are obstinate! 
determined to base their admiration on his ai 
are driven to make excuses for him, even 1 
themselves. His best things are so good th* 
his readers are impelled to deny the badness < 
his worst, instead of recognising that the grounc 
of their admiration are false, and seeking a firme 
explanation. That such an explanation is to I 
found is proved by the fact that something i 
the character of his mind moves those wh 
dislike what they know of him to express the: 
dislike with extravagance, and others to prais 
no less extravagantly the tales and poems o 
which they persuade themselves that their respec 
for him is based. 

There is no need, then, to apologise for a boo 
that seeks to examine all Poe s activities in tun 
and so to separate truth from tradition, and t 
discover what it is in Poe that stimulates sue 
violence of praise and blame, alike insecure! 
founded. There is no need to apologise even fc 

viii 



PREFACE 

failure in such an attempt. An admiration or 
contempt that we do not try to understand is 
more humiliating to the mind than none at 
all. 

I had become dissatisfied with my own respect 
for Poe, because I could not point to tales or 
poems that accounted for its peculiar character 
of expectancy. I admired him, but, upon analysis, 
found that my admiration was always for some 
thing round the corner, or over the hill. In 
reading and re-reading his collected works 1 
learnt that, perfect as his best things are, he has 
another title to immortality. It became clear 
that Poe s brain was more stimulating than his 
art, and that the tales and poems by which he is 
known were but the by-products of an uncon- 
cluded search. Throughout Poe s life he sought 
a philosophy of beauty that should also be a 
philosophy of life. He did not find it, and the 
unconcluded nature of his search is itself sufficient 
to explain his present vitality. Seekers rather 
than finders stimulate the imagination. 

Poe s circumstances were not those most 
favourable to a philosopher of aesthetic. He 
was ill-educated and seldom free from anxiety. 
He lacked at once a firm foundation and an 
untroubled atmosphere in which to build. But 
he practised no art on which he did not write, 
and wrote on few that he did not find oppor- 

ix 



PREFACE 

tunity to practise. He had a craftsman s know- 
Jedge and much more, and, though again and 
again a bias in his character, or a prejudice that 
he had acquired, made his building impossible, 
his efforts towards a system, embedded as they 
are in all kinds of other work, foreshadow in an 
extraordinary manner the ideas that are most 
satisfying to-day. 

In this book I have tried to trace Poe s 
thought by discussing in the most convenient 
order his various activities or groups of ideas. I 
have tried also to draw a portrait of the man and 
to strike a balance between his practice and his 
theory. In a Biographical Background I have 
tried to give this life of work and thought a 
setting in the world, and, in a postscript, to follow 
the gradual naturalisation of Foe as a_French 
writer. 

There are a few sentences in the book taken 
from a previous short essay, published in my 
History of Story -telling, and in other forms. 
There seemed to be no sufficient reason for 
obscuring by a paraphrase what was as clear as I 
could make it. 

Professor Woodberry very generously gave me 
permission to quote from several letters that are 
his copyright, and also to use his excellent book 
on Poe (issued in " The American Men of Letters 
Series " by Messrs. Houghton, Mifflin of Boston, 



CONTENTS 

PAGE 

PREFACE vii 

BIOGRAPHICAL BACKGROUND I 

A PRELIMINARY NOTE ON POE S CRITICISM 45 

SELF-CONSCIOUS TECHNIQUE 6l 

TALES 87 

POETRY 115 

ANALYSIS 149 

METAPHYSICS 169 

FRAYED ENDS 193 

POSTSCRIPT: THE FRENCH VIEW OF POE 217 



XU1 



BIOGRAPHICAL 
BACKGROUND 



IOGRAPHICAL 
BACKGROUND 



IT is only in exceptional cases that he who 
would examine a man s work can refuse all 
knowledge of its author, as a hindrance rather 
than a help to his understanding. We do 
not need much, but we are glad of much 
from which to choose our knowledge. We 

i recognise that his life, the physical facts of his 
existence, even though they may not affect his 

I work directly, are yet symptoms of the conditions 
in which that work was produced. And on our 
knowledge of those conditions depends at least 
the accuracy of our re-creation of his work, our 
reproduction of his picture as he intended it, our 
reading of that unwritten book whose shadow is 
given us in print and paper. 

The life of Poe has been a battleground for his 
biographers, and it is perhaps because of the din 
and smoke of that field that what he wrote has 

> been so obtusely comprehended. In the excite- 

3 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

m ent of personal conflict with other writers, 
conflict mainly concerned with the facts ar 
legends of his life, and their judgment in terms < 
contemporary morality, all but one of those wl 
have written " Lives " of Poe have taken his woi 
for granted, his uneven poetry, his affinity wi1 
Baudelaire, his weirdness there are a few oth 
general headings under which, as it were I 
mutual consent, Poe s work is labelled and le 
out of the scrimmage, like the hospital in a sieg 
For this book, concerned with the contents < 
that hospital, we need only enough biographic 
background to throw into the perspective of li 
such an examination as we propose. We hai 
no wish to expose the peace of mind that 
necessary for our work to the rude shocks ar 
countershocks of that smoking field. The batt 
does not invite us, for it does not seem to us 1 
be a battle about anything that matters. I wi 
to make it clear that in this chapter I am on 
preparing the ground for our discussion. I c 
not offer a biography of Poe, but set down, ; 
briefly as I can, such facts as seem to be importan 
passing over much, and reserving the right to 1 
disproportionately detailed in treating anythir 
that seems likely to throw any light upon h 
work. There is already one " Life " of Poe ttu 
is impartial, and written by a man who is himse 
an artist. If I could be sure that all who rea 

4 



BIOGRAPHICAL BACKGROUND 

this book had read Professor Woodberry s I 
would proceed at once to the more inviting 
subjects of examination. 



II 

The opening scene of Poe s life might have 
been taken from the story of a nineteenth - 
century Capitaine Fracasse and painted by 
Hogarth. The curtain lifts on the children, Poe 
and his brother and sister, with a father and 
mother, both poor players left in illness by the 
travelling company to which they were attached, 
living in a garret. The Hogarthian figure of the 
group is an old Welsh nurse, who, to quiet the 
children, took them in turn upon her lap and fed / 
them with bread soaked in gin. The Welsh 
woman fantastically dressed, the gin, the squalid 
garret, the dying parents ; the subject would 
have delighted the most literary of painters. It 
is like the first note in one of Poe s tales, fore 
telling the inevitable end. 

The Captain Fracasse of the story, whose 
adventure turned out less pleasantly than that of 
the adventurous Marquis in Gautier s tale, was 
David Poe, the son of a Revolutionary Quarter 
master-General. He married Elizabeth Arnold, 
a graceful but not a superlative actress. She 
had been married before, and when David Poe 

5 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

met her, she was known as Mrs. Hopkin 
Hopkins was a comedian, and his widow becarr 
Mrs. Poe within a month of his death. They ha 
three children, William, Edgar, and Rosali 
Edgar Poe was born on January 19, 1809. I 
January, 1811, his mother was too ill to mo^ 
on from Richmond where the company had bee 
playing. The destitution of the family becarr 
known, and, when the children were left orphan 
William, the eldest, was taken into the house < 
relatives, a Mrs. Mackenzie adopted the litt 
girl, and the younger boy was adopted by Jot 
Allan, a tobacco-merchant. The girl became 
listless creature, with vacuous eyes, a love < 
flowers and a dislike of ugly faces. The litt 
boy became Edgar Allan Poe, the writer who: 
work this book is an attempt to discuss. 

The Allans were rich, and the child, who w; 
really an elaborate kind of pet for Mrs. Alia 
was wild and lovely in appearance, precocious 
speech and manner. He was indulged by tl 
lady, and the business man sometimes, please 
with his antics, followed her example, and som 
times, displeased with his wilfulness, adopted 
severity that was the more demoralising becau; 
capricious. There are tales of a little boy standir 
among the dessert, and, glass in hand, proposir 
toasts. There are tales, too, of ungovernab 
tempests of rage. 

6 



BIOGRAPHICAL BACKGROUND 

As a child, he knew the extremes of poverty 
and opulence. The garret lodgings and the 
comfortable household of the Allans struck con 
trasted chords that, in different keys, echoed 
throughout his life. He had the pride and the 
sensitiveness to insult of the poor boy who has 
become rich, and, when a starving man, his 
wretchedness was intensified by the fastidious 
delicacy of his tastes. 



Ill 

When he was six years old the Allans took 
him to England, and, while they travelled, left 
him in the Manor House School at Stoke 
Newington. His description of this period of 
his life (for it cannot be doubted that " William 
Wilson s " schooldays were his own) is comparable 
to Coleridge s memories of Christ s Hospital. 
The sediments of impression that their schooldays 
left the two men are characteristic of themselves. 
Coleridge remembers his old master as a teacher 
of what is true and false in literature. He gives 
no picture of the man, nor of the grey cloisters, 
nor of the sounding flagstones, while Foe, less 
concerned with what he learnt there, is unable 
to forget the pictorial, nervous impression left 
upon him by his school. 

Here are the paragraphs from William Wilson. 

7 



EDGAR ALLAN FOE 

Very little in them seems to have been peculiarly 
coloured for the purposes of the tale : 

" My earliest recollections of a school-life, are 
connected with a large, rambling, Elizabethan 
house, in a misty-looking village of England, 
where were a vast number of gigantic and 
gnarled trees, and where all the houses were 
excessively ancient. In truth, it was a dream 
like and spirit-soothing place, that venerable old 
town. At this moment, in fancy, I feel the 
refreshing chilliness of its deeply- shadowed 
avenues, inhale the fragrance of its thousand 
shrubberies, and thrill anew with undefmable 
delight, at the deep hollow note of the church- 
bell, breaking, each hour, with sullen and sudden 
roar, upon the stillness of the dusky atmosphere 
in which the fretted Gothic steeple lay imbedded 
and asleep. 

" It gives me, perhaps, as much of pleasure as 
I can now in any manner experience, to dwell 
upon minute recollections of the school and its 
concerns. Steeped in misery as I am misery, 
alas ! only too real I shall be pardoned for 
seeking relief, however slight and temporary, in 
the weakness of a few rambling details. These, 
moreover, utterly trivial, and even ridiculous in 
themselves, assume, to my fancy, adventitious 
importance, as connected with a period and a 
locality when and where I recognise the first 
ambiguous monitions of the destiny which after 
wards so fully overshadowed me. Let me then 
remember. 

" The house, I have said, was old and irregular. 

8 



BIOGRAPHICAL BACKGROUND 

The grounds were extensive, and a high and 
solid brick wall, topped with a bed of mortar 
and broken glass, encompassed the whole. This 
prison-like rampart formed the limit of our 
domain ; beyond it we saw but thrice a week 
once every Saturday afternoon, when, attended 
by two ushers, we were permitted to take brief 
w r alks in a body through some of the neighbour 
ing fields and twice during Sunday, when we 
were paraded in the same formal manner to the 
morning and evening service in the one church 
of the village. Of this church the principal of 
our school was pastor. With how deep a spirit 
of wonder and perplexity was I wont to regard 
him from our remote pew in the gallery, as, with 
step solemn and slow, he ascended the pulpit ! 
This reverend man, with countenance so de 
murely benign, with robes so glossy and so 
clerically flowing, with wig so minutely pow 
dered, so rigid arid so vast, could this be he 
who, of late, with sour visage, and in snuffy 
habiliments, administered, ferule in hand, the 
Draconian laws of the academy ? Oh, gigantic 
paradox, too utterly monstrous for solution ! 

" At an angle of the ponderous wall frowned 
a more ponderous gate. It was riveted and 
studded with iron bolts, and surmounted with 
jagged iron spikes. What impressions of deep 
awe did it inspire ! It was never opened save 
for the three periodical egressions and ingressions 
already mentioned ; then, in every creak of its 
mighty hinges, we found a plenitude of mystery 
a world of matter for solemn remark, or for 
more solemn meditation. 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

" The extensive enclosure was irregular in 
form, having many capacious recesses. Of these, 
three or four of the largest constituted the play 
ground. It was level, and covered with line 
hard gravel. I well remember it had no trees, 
nor benches, nor anything similar within it. Oi 
course it was in the rear of the house. In front 
lay a small parterre, planted with box and other 
shrubs ; but through this sacred division we 
passed only upon rare occasions indeed such as 
a first advent to school or final departure thence, 
or perhaps, when a parent or friend having called 
for us, we joyfully took our way home for the 
Christmas or Midsummer holidays. 

" But the house ! how quaint an old building 
was this ! to me how veritably a palace of 
enchantment ! There was really no end to its 
windings to its incomprehensible subdivisions. 
It was difficult, at any given time, to say with 
certainty upon which of its two stories one 
happened to be. From each room to every 
other there were sure to be found three or four 
steps either in ascent or descent. Then the 
lateral branches were innumerable inconceiv 
able and so returning in upon themselves, that 
our most exact ideas in regard to the whole 
mansion were not very far different from those 
with which we pondered upon infinity. During 
the five years of my residence here, I was never 
able to ascertain with precision, in what remote 
locality lay the little sleeping apartment assigned 
to myself and some eighteen or twenty other 
scholars. 

" The school-room was the largest in the 

10 



BIOGRAPHICAL BACKGROUND 

house I could not help thinking, in the world. 
It was very long, narrow, and dismally low, with 
pointed Gothic windows and a ceiling of oak. 
In a remote and terror-inspiring angle was a 
square enclosure of eight or ten feet, comprising 
the sanctum, during hours, of our principal, 
the Reverend Dr. Bransby. It was a solid 
structure, with massy door, sooner than open 
which in the absence of the * Dominie, we 
would all have willingly perished by the peine 
forte et dure. In other angles were two other 
similar boxes, far less reverenced, indeed, but 
still greatly matters of awe. One of these was 
the pulpit of the classical usher, one of the 
6 English and mathematical. Interspersed about 
the room, crossing and recrossing in endless irre 
gularity, were innumerable benches and desks, 
black, ancient, and time-worn, piled desperately 
with much-bethumbed books, and so beseamed 
with initial letters, names at full length, gro 
tesque figures, and other multiplied efforts of the 
knife, as to have entirely lost what little of 
original form might have been their portion in 
days long departed. A huge bucket with water 
stood at one extremity of the room, and a clock 
of stupendous dimensions at the other. 

" Encompassed by the massy walls of this 
venerable academy, I passed, yet not in tedium 
or disgust, the years of the third lustrum of my 
life. The teeming brain of childhood requires 
no external world of incident to occupy or amuse 
it ; and the apparently dismal monotony of a 
school was replete with more intense excitement 
than my riper youth has derived from luxury, or 

11 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

my full manhood from crime. Yet I must be 
lieve that my first mental development had in it 
much of the uncommon even much of the outre. 
Upon mankind at large the events of very early 
existence rarely leave in mature age any definite 
impression. All is grey shadow a weak and 
irregular remembrance an indistinct regathering 
of feeble pleasures and phantasmagoric pains. 
With me this is not so. In childhood I must 
have felt with the energy of a man what I now 
find stamped upon memory in lines as vivid, as 
deep, and as durable as the exergues of the 
Carthaginian medals." 

He was eleven years old when he left. 



IV 

On the return of the family to America, Poe 
was sent to a day-school at Richmond, where his 
adopted parents lived. He slept and passed his 
evenings at the tobacco-merchant s, and spent his 
days among the usual classical authors, and in 
adding to his knowledge of French, as well as 
in hardening his muscles with athletics. He 
was a good fencer and a powerful swimmer. One 
hot June day he swam over seven miles " against 
a tide running probably from two to three miles 
an hour."* Facts like these help to give bodily 
existence and credibility even to such a walker 

* Griswold. 
12 



BIOGRAPHICAL BACKGROUND 

under the bat s wing and crescent moon as Foe, 
just as our understanding of Keats is fortified by 
the knowledge that upon occasion he was ready 
and able to chastise a butcher. 

But, simultaneously with these quite fleshly 
schooldays, were passing days of another kind, 
and nearer to the shades that were to rule the 
man. He fell in love, and in such a manner as 
to suggest a darker lining to the silver cloud his 
schooldays seem. Only when a boy is very lonely 
do a few kind words from a woman make any 
deep impression on his mind. One such boy, 
outwardly happy enough, was surprised by his 
schoolmaster s wife laying her hand on his shoulder 
and calling him " old man." So novel and un 
expected was the endearment, that, secretly, in 
a corner of the playground, he wept throughout 
a summer afternoon. I think a similar feeling 
must have been the origin of Foe s first love 
affair. One day, when Foe was at the house of 
a schoolfellow, he met the boy s mother. 

" This lady, on entering the room, took his 
hand and spoke some gentle and gracious words 
of welcome, which so penetrated the sensitive 
heart of the orphan boy as to deprive him of the 
power of speech, and, for a time, almost of con 
sciousness itself. He returned home in a dream, 
with but one thought, one hope in life to hear 
again the sweet and gracious words that had 

13 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

made the desolate world so beautiful to him, and 
filled his lonely heart with the oppression of a new 
joy. This lady afterwards became the confidant 
of all his boyish sorrows, and hers was the 
redeeming influence that saved and guided him 
in the earlier days of his turbulent and passionate 
youth. After the visitation of strange and 
peculiar sorrows she died, and for months after 
her decease it was his habit to visit nightly the 
cemetery where the object of his boyish idolatry 
lay entombed." 

I tell this story in the words of a slim and 
ladylike little book, one of those that took part 
in the battle over Poe s character.* It was pub 
lished eleven years after his death, and, though 
the writer cannot help trying to lift the facts 
into the atmosphere of romance, they have not 
been denied by his biographers. The same 
writer tells us that Poe spoke of this affection 
as "the one, idolatrous, and purely ideal love" 
of his boyhood. In the Marginalia, writing of 
Byron, he quotes from Madame Dudevant, 
" Les anges ne sont plus pures que le cceur d un 
jeune homme qui aime en verite ( The angels 
are not more pure than the heart of a young 
man who loves with fervour ). The hyperbole 
is scarcely less than true. It would be truth 
itself, were it averred of the love of him who is 

* Edgar Poe and his Critics. By Sarah Helen Whitman. 

14 



BIOGRAPHICAL BACKGROUND 

at the same time young and a poet. The boyish 
poet-love is indisputably that one of the human 
sentiments which most nearly realises our dream 
of the chastened voluptuousness of heaven." Poe 
was a boy of fourteen and a poet. It is possible 
for such to love from the heart upwards, and, 
even while living an athletic youth, to look out 
from the frame of this love with the same aloof 
and almost pitying eyes as those of a child who 
is happy enough to exist in a painting by Sandro 
Botticelli.* This kindly woman, who died so 
soon after he met her, left her image to the boy 
as the rough sketch of that ideal Lenore who 
w r as to thread her ghostly way through his 
phantasmal poetry. 

Without some such experience, much of his 
work would have been other than it was. I 
think, too, that it is perhaps important to notice 
that he suffered it at this time. He left school 
not long after her death, and the time between 
his schooldays and his entry of the Virginia 
University, a year free for idleness and self- 
examination, probably did much in inking-in the 
pencilled outlines of his character. He must 

* When I noted this, I was thinking of a picture, not by 
Botticelli, but by one of Botticelli s school, that hangs, I 
think, close by the master s picture in the long Italian gallery 
of the Louvre. I have never met the eyes of the child who 
looks from that picture without feeling that here was one who 
leant from heaven and saw that men could never understand. 

15 



\ 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

have been thinking of this time, spent in the 
rather magnificent house of the tobacco-merchant, 
when, wrapped in Byron s cloak, with Moore s 
translation in his pocket, he wrote in the 1831 
edition of Romance these lines, that were to be 
erased later : 

" For, being an idle boy lang syne, 
Who read Anacreon and drank wine, 
I early found Anacreon rhymes 
Were almost passionate sometimes 
And by strange alchemy of brain 
His pleasures always turn d to pain 
His naivete to wild desire 
His wit to love his wine to fire 
And so, being young and dipt in folly 
I fell in love with melancholy, 
And used to throw my earthly rest 
And quiet all away in jest 
I could not love except where Death 
Was mingling his with Beauty s breath 
Or Hymen, Time, and Destiny 
Were stalking between her and me." 

Byron s cloak was already on his shoulders 
when, at the age of seventeen, he began his 
session at the University. He earnestly but 
discreetly lived up to it, with no very serious 
result, as he escaped censure by the authorities, 
and took honours in Latin and French. He 
had, however, gambled prodigiously, and expected 
Mr. Allan to satisfy a debt of honour that 

16 



BIOGRAPHICAL BACKGROUND 

amounted to two thousand five hundred dollars. 
Mr. Allan was a business man. The cloak of 
Byron meant nothing to him, nor did the gains 
in Latin and French compensate for these more 
obvious losses. He removed Poe from the 
University, and set him to add figures in his 
office. 



Honours in Latin and French, a grand manner in 
gambling, a boy s tragical love affair, and the cloak 
of Byron, do not find in a tall stool in a tobacco- 
merchant s office the setting they require. Poe 
knew what the setting should have been, when 
he permitted, or even helped into existence the 
fictions of his expedition in aid of Grecian 
liberty, the journey that did not end in Misso- 
longhi but in St. Petersburg.* That is what 

* It is worth while to show that Poe was not alone in thus 
trying to lessen the discrepancy between his life and what he 
felt to be fitting to his character. I take an example from 
Hogg s Life of Shelley. Shelley wrote to Godwin : 

" At the period to which I allude, I was at Eton. No 
sooner had I formed the principles [Godwin s own] which I 
now profess, than I was anxious to disseminate their benefits. 
This was done without the slightest caution. I was twice 
expelled, but recalled by the interference of my father. 

"All this is pu rely imaginary : he never published anything 
controversial at Eton ; he was never expelled ; not twice, not 
once. His poetic temperament was overpowered by the 
grandeur and awfulness of the occasion^ when he took up his 

17 B 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

the setting should have been. But it was not. 
Professor Woodberry prints documents that leave 
little possible doubt as to what actually occurred. 
Poe left Mr. Allan, went to Boston, and persuaded 
another boy, who was setting up as a printer, to 
publish a book of verse. Then, since there seemed 
to be nothing else to do, and he had no money, 
he enlisted in the American army under the 
name of Edgar A. Perry. 

pen to address the author of Caleb Williams, so that the 
auspicious Apollo, to relieve and support his favourite son, 
shed over his head a benign vision. He saw himself at his 
Dame s with Political Justice, which he had lately borrowed 
from Dr. Lind, open before him. He had read a few pages 
and had formed his principles in a moment ; he was thrown 
into a rapture by the truisms, mares -nests, and paradoxes, 
which he had met with. 

" He sees himself in the printing-loft of J. Pote, bibliopola 
et typographus/ amongst Eton grammars and Eton school- 
books, republishing with the rapidity of a dream and with 
out the slightest caution, Godwin s heavy and unsaleable 
volumes. He sees himself before the Dons convened and 
expelled ; and lastly, he beholds the Honourable Member for 
Shoreham weeping at his knees like Priam at the feet of 
Achilles, and imploring the less inexorable Dr. Keate. 

"All this being poetically true, he firmly and loyally believes, 
and communicates, as being true in act, fact, and deed, to his 
venerable correspondent. One more instance, and that is 
still more extraordinary ; he says : 

" My father wished to induce me, by poverty, to accept ol 
some commission in a distant regiment, in the interim of my 
absence to prosecute the pamphlet, that a process of outlawry 
might make the estate on his death devolve to my younger 
brother. 

ft No offer of a commission in the army was ever made to 
Bysshe ; it is only in a dream, that the prosecution, outlawry, 
and devolution of the estate could find a place." 

18 



BIOGRAPHICAL BACKGROUND 

The poems received no more attention than is 
usually given to unadvertised verse, even of better 
quality. Lack of money is enough to account 
for many enlistments. But what is extraordinary 
is the fact that Byron s cloak, turned to a military 
great-coat, brought with it such an attention to 
duty and discipline as won Poe, in less than two 
years, the responsibilities of a Sergeant-Major. 
Perhaps Poe s aloofness from the interests of his 
comrades saved him from the carousals, however 
mild, that would have overturned his resolves and 
certainly cost him his promotion. Drinking alone 
is dull work, and there is no evidence that Poe 
enjoyed or practised it. There can be no doubt 
that he recognised his danger, in the mind of any 
one who reads the three letters of recommendation 
given him by his officers. The first, from his 
lieutenant, says, " His habits are good and intirely 
free from drinking "; the second, from his adjutant, 
says that he " has been exemplary in his deport 
ment"; the third, from his commander, says, 
awkwardly, "he appears to be free from bad 
habits, in fact the testimony of Lt. Howard, 
and Adjt. Griswold is full to that point." It is 
not extravagant to suppose that he had asked for 
an explicit statement on a question that may have 
been raised by Mr. Allan at the close of his short 
University career. 

He asked for these letters when he had made 

19 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

peace with Mr. Allan, who secured for him a 
discharge by substitute, so that he might qualify 
for officer s rank by passing through the military 
school at West Point. Mr. Allan gave him a 
rather unpleasant letter, hostile and cold, to the 
Secretary for War, and Poe went with it to 
Washington. 

Some time passed before he was admitted as a 
cadet, and he showed that his two years in the 
ranks had not altered his character. He had 
added other poems to those in his first volume, 
and presently published another book, a revised 
edition of the first, with the new work. This 
book was issued at Baltimore in 1829, and much 
of its matter stands in the final edition of his 
writings. 

On July 1, 1830, he entered West Point. He 
was again in the society of students, but the 
difference between himself and them was wider 
even than that between the young poet-lover and 
his fellows at the Virginia University. There, at 
least, they were of his own age, although they 
had not mourned a Lenore among the tomb 
stones. Here, with a man s experience behind 
him, he found himself among boys. He had 
known something of the sober battles of the 
world, whereas they were gaily learning to direct 
the gaudy conflicts of the tented field. They said 
" he had procured a cadet s appointment for his 

20 



BIOGRAPHICAL BACKGROUND 

son, and, the boy having died, the father had 
substituted himself in his place." * The loneliness 
that lasted through his life was already deepening 
about him, but did not prevent him from sharing 
in the brandy-drinking that was the habit of the 
cadets who shared his room. He met them on 
the lowest of common grounds. Elsewhere, he 
lived his own life, reading, and writing poetry 
that began to wear the iridescent colours of his 
genius, doing well in the French and mathematical 
classes, but occasionally contemptuously neglect 
ful of the military routine. He found it easier 
to please the army mind as a penniless common 
soldier than as a cadet with a tobacco-merchant 
behind him. Six months were sufficient to show 
him that he was not destined; to his grandfather s 
career, and, to make sure of escaping from West 
Point, he compelled his own dismissal by a con 
sistent series of offences against the discipline of 
the place. ( He was dismissed by court-martial, 
and, on March 7, 1831, at the age of twenty-two, 
he found himself in the world again, with twelve 
cents of his own money, and possibly a few 
subscriptions for the new volume of poetry which 
he immediately published in New York. On 
leaving his guardian, on leaving the ranks, on 
leaving West Point, he had flung out his flag in 
publishing a book. 

* Woodberry. Quoted from Harper s Magazine, 1867. 
21 



EDGAR ALLAN FOE 



VI 

The next six years hold the motif of the 
troubled composition of his life. In them were 
developed the qualities that should have brought 
him happiness, and those that turned his happi 
ness to misery, those that should have made him 
worldlily successful, and those that invariably 
turned his success to failure. He was twenty -two 
when he left West Point, leaving with it a career 
and any hopes he may have had of pecuniary help 
from Mr. Allan. For a moment he seems to have 
found it hard to realise that money is a thing 
that must be earned. He published his book of 
poetry, and went to Baltimore because he had 
relations there. They did not put him in the 
way of getting any work. He tried for a post 
as a clerk, and for another as a schoolmaster. 
He must have had a full experience of the poverty 
of those who can only earn money by their pens, 
and have not yet proved their power of doing as 
much. In 1833 he was without a decent suit of 
clothes, and almost without food. His only pro 
perty seems to have been his poems and his first 
stories, none of which he had been able to pub 
lish. A local paper offered a hundred dollars as 
the prize for a competition in story-writing, and 
fifty dollars for a similar competition in poetry. 

22 



BIOGRAPHICAL BACKGROUND 

Poe, empty-bellied and almost in rags, sent in 
The Coliseum and a careful manuscript copy of 
his tales in a small book. He won both prizes, 
was given the larger, and complimented by the 
critics who had decided the awards. The prize 
brought him more than the hundred dollars in 
the friendship of Mr. Kennedy, who saw to it 
that his tales were published in the paper that 
had held the competition, gave him a horse to 
ride for exercise, fed him and clothed him, and, 
in fact, lifted him from the risk of imminent 
disaster to a position where he could work with 
some tranquillity. Poe also became intimate with 
the editor of the paper, an editor who, unfor 
tunately, was soon to taste poverty himself. 

About this time he became the third in a 
small family, thenceforward made up of his aunt, 
Mrs. Clemm, her daughter Virginia, then eleven, 
and himself. Mrs. Clemm, harder in appearance 
than in heart, treated him as her own son, better, 
indeed, than mothers treat their sons, starving 
herself for his sake, and, to the end of her life, 
working unstintedly for his work and for himself. 
Poe repaid her by an absolute identification of 
her interests with his own, and by an affection 
that, next to his feeling for Virginia, was the 
least angular thing in his life. 

Mr. Allan died next year, and Poe s name was 
not in his will. His feelings towards his adopted 

23 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

son had already been made sufficiently clear. 
The news in no way interrupted Poe s life. He 
was working steadily at poetry and prose, and 
making money to boil the common pot by scantily 
paid journalism. Already his brain was full of 
schemes for a paper of his own, a dream like 
Balzac s printing house, that was to make him 
rich and help him in getting the ear of America 
for his work. It is difficult for us, with our 
knowledge of what he was to become, to con 
struct a true picture of Poe as he seemed then. 
But a letter from his friend Mr. Kennedy to the 
editor of the Southern Literary Messenger, to 
which Poe had just sent his first contribution, 
shows us a young man in whom it was easy to 
be interested, the sort of young man whom his 
elders regard with some fondness, even while 
trying to make him like themselves. The letter 
is printed in Griswold s essay. 

" BALTIMORE, April 13, 1835. 

" DEAR SIR, 

" Poe did right in referring to me. He is 
very clever with his pen classical and scholar- 
like. He wants experience and direction, but I 
have no doubt he can be made very useful to 
you. And, poor fellow ! he is very poor. I told 
him to write something for every number of your 
magazine, and that you might find it to your 
advantage to give him some permanent employ. 

24 



BIOGRAPHICAL BACKGROUND 

i 

He has a volume of very bizarre tales in the 
hands of- , in Philadelphia, who for a year 
past has been promising to publish them. This 
young fellow is highly imaginative, and a little 
given to the terrific. He is at work upon a 
tragedy, but I have turned him to drudging 
upon whatever may make money, and 1 have no 
doubt you and he will find your account in each 
other." 



Poe, though " classical and scholar-like," and 
" a little given to the terrific," very soon made it 
clear that if he had had a magazine of his own 
he would have known what to do with it. He 
first contributed to the Southern Literary Mes 
senger in 1835. At midsummer he left Baltimore 
for Richmond, to become more closely connected 
with it. In January of the next year he was 
practically managing it, and filling its columns 
with his work. By January 1837 he had turned 
a little paper, that was rather tottery upon its 
legs, into a firmly established and important 
magazine. His critical articles, of a kind new 
in America, iconoclastic, vigorous, and speedily 
feared, had brought it to the level of the older 
papers of New York. He then left it to its 
success, and turned to face poverty himself. 

The history of his connection with the Mes 
senger runs parallel to events in his private life, 
equally important to us in their elucidation of 

25 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

his character. The child Virginia had become 
necessary to him, and his cousin s proposal to 
take care of her until she should be old enough 
to decide if she and Foe were suited to each 
other, first threw him into extreme anguish, and 
then, rousing him to action, hurried on a wedding. 
He took out a licence in September 1835. It is 
suggested that there was a private marriage. 
Whether that is so or not, Virginia did not leave 
Mrs. Clemm, and mother and daughter followed 
Poe to Richmond. Here he tried to establish 
Mrs. Clemm as the landlady of a boarding house, 
in which he and her daughter were to live with 
other paying guests. In May 1836 Poe and 
Virginia were publicly married. She was not 
fourteen. 

It is probable that early in these six years the 
little cloud, at first no bigger than a man s hand, 
that was at last to cover the sky and close like a 
pall over his grave, had shown on Poe s horizon. 
His biographers, Hostile or apologetic, assuming, 
like Moslems, that drink is the unforgivable sin, 
spend themselves in vain battle, on the one hand, 
to show that he was a drunkard, on the other, to 
prove that he touched little but water. There 
is, certainly, no evidence to show that, before 
leaving West Point, Poe had been in the habit 
of drinking more than other young men. But, 
when we remember the circumstances of his 

26 



BIOGRAPHICAL BACKGROUND 

childhood, the Hogarth picture of the old woman 
feeding the child with gin, and his father s un 
doubted failing, we find it easy to explain much 
of his story by supposing that, in those early 
months of starvation, Foe, like most men in 
sufficiently fed, took more readily to drink than 
to food, and found it less difficult to obtain.; 
Drink is always offered before food to a starving 
man by his friends. Poe may have learnt in a 
tavern in Baltimore, like many a young journalist 
in a bar in Fleet Street, that a glass of whisky is 
almost the only thing that is given and taken 
without a hint of the patronage distasteful alike 
to giver and receiver. He certainly learnt to 
fear it. Griswold prints a letter from White, 
the owner of the Messenger, in which occur these 
sentences : 

" That you are sincere in all your promises I 
firmly believe. But when you once again tread 
these streets, I have my fears that your resolution 
will fail and that you will again drink until your 
senses are lost. ... If you would make your 
self contented with quarters in my house, or with 
any other private family where liquor is not used, 
I should think there was some hope for you. 
But if you go to a tavern or to any other place 
where it is used at table, you are not safe." 

Is it too much to suppose that something 
more than his knowledge of Virginia s age made 

27 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

Neilson Poe anxious fo remove her from his 
cousin s side ? Is it too much to find in the 
separation from the Messenger a proof that 
renewed lapses contributed to Poe s irregularity 
at the office: Nothing else explains at once the 
dismissal of so successful an editor and the 
friendly attitude of White, who was still ready 
to publish his work. 

In the six years since he left West Point Poe 
had fought his way up from poverty, and shown 
that, with Balzac s business powers and acumen, 
he had also, for different reasons, Balzac s ill luck 
in letting other people profit by them. He had 
found himself, and, with himself, the secret of 
his eventual disaster. 



VII 

Poe s life henceforth is a story of shiftings 
from the pillar to the post of journalism. In 
1838 he published The Narrative of Arthur 
Gordon Pym, that had begun as a serial contribu 
tion to the Messenger. In 1839 he put his name 
to a piece of hackwork, not much more predatory 
than the exercises of other free lances, that was 
published under the name of The Conchologisfs 
First Book ; or, A System of Testaceous Mala 
cology. He contributed to many American 
papers, and became particularly connected with 

28 



BIOGRAPHICAL BACKGROUND 

Burtons Gentleman s Magazine and American 
Monthly Review, where he reprinted much that 
had already appeared, and published The Journal 
of Julius Rodman and a quantity of criticism. 
But, in June 1840, he had a vehement quarrel 
with Burton. Burton was an actor and the 
proprietor of the paper. Foe considered him a 
scoundrel on account of a premium scheme, and 
also, perhaps chiefly, because he wished to mollify 
the tone of Poe s attacks on some of the authors 
he criticised. Poe seems to have written a bitter 
letter, meeting Burton on his own ground, and 
suggesting that slashing reviews brought sub 
scribers to the paper. The editor replied in a 
letter quoted by Griswold : 

" I am sorry you have thought it necessary to 
send me such a letter. Your troubles have given 
a morbid tone to your feelings which it is your 
duty to discourage. I myself have been as 
severely handled by the world as you could 
possibly have been, but my sufferings have not 
tinged my mind with melancholy, nor jaundiced 
my views of society. You must rouse your 
energies, and if care assail you, conquer it. I 
will gladly overlook the past. I hope you will 
as easily fulfil your pledges for the future. We 
shall agree very well, though I cannot permit 
the magazine to be made a vehicle for that sort 
of severity which you think is * so successful 
with the mob. I am truly much less anxious 

29 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

about making a monthly sensation than I am 
upon the point of fairness. You must, my dear 
sir, get rid of your avowed ill feelings towards 
your brother authors. You see I speak plainly : 
I cannot do otherwise upon such a subject. 
You say the people love havoc. I think they 
love justice. I think you yourself would not 
have written the article on Dawes in a more 
healthy state of mind. I am not trammelled by 
any vulgar considerations of expediency ; I 
would rather lose money than, by such undue 
severity, wound the feelings of a kind-hearted 
and honourable man ; and I am satisfied that 
Dawes has something of the true fire in him. I 
regretted your word-catching spirit. But 1 
wander from my design. I accept your proposi 
tion to recommence your interrupted avocations 
upon the Maga. Let us meet as if we had not 
exchanged letters. Use more exercise, write 
when feelings prompt, and be assured of my 
friendship. You will soon regain a healthy 
activity of mind and laugh at your past 
vagaries." 

I am almost^ inclined to suspect that Mr. 
Burton wrote his letter with a view to publica 
tion, or, at least, to showing it round among 
his friends. Its sentiments are so uniformly 
respectable. Few things are more galling to 
proud and sensitive minds than to receive advice 
of this confident nature from their intellectual 
inferiors. " I am satisfied that Dawes has some- 

30 



BIOGRAPHICAL BACKGROUND 

thing of the true fire in him." Pronouncements 
like that stir the mildest heart when they come 
from the mouths of publishers and men of 
business with more pretension than right to 
literary judgment. Poe must indeed have been 
in straits to consent to work with such a man. 

Burton also accused Poe of drunkenness, a 
charge that was indignantly denied. Presently 
Burton was trying to sell his magazine, and Poe 
was trying to start another that should be his 
own, and leave him free from interference. He 
failed in securing a capitalist, and became editor 
of Grahams Magazine, to which he contributed 
his articles on cryptography and handwriting, 
and, amongst other stories, The Murders in the 
Rue Morgue. 

Meanwhile, he was living a peaceful idyll with 
Virginia and the gigantic, matronly Mrs. Clemm, 
who was body-servant and mother to them both. 
But Virginia broke a blood-vessel in singing, and 
spent the, rest of her life in dying. This anxiety 
possibly increased Poe s irregularities, which had, 
however, other causes. He had lived beyond his 
means. 

" There are few men of that peculiar sensibility 
which is at the root of genius, who, in early 
youth, have not expended much of their mental 
energy in living too fast ; and, in later years, 
comes the unconquerable desire to goad the 

31 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

imagination up to that point which it would 
have attained in an ordinary, normal, or well- 
regulated life. The earnest longing for artificial 
excitement, which, unhappily, has characterised 
too many eminent men, may thus be regarded as 
a psychal want, or necessity an effort to regain 
the lost a struggle of the soul to assume the 
position which, under other circumstances, would 
have been its due." 

It is suggested that he took opium. In 1842, 
he left Graham s Magazine less peaceably than 
he had parted from the Messenger. He again 
projected a paper of his own, but, going to 
Washington to seek subscribers for it, he became 
intoxicated to such an extent that his friends 
sent for each other, and debated who was to 
take him home, lest harm should come to him 
on the way. 

On June 11, 1843, he wrote to Griswold a 
letter that shows into what state of poverty the 
family had fallen : 

"DEAR GRISWOLD, Can you send me five 
dollars ? 1 am sick and Virginia almost gone. 
Come and see me. Peterson says you suspect 
me of a curious anonymous letter. I did not 
write it, but bring it with you when you make 
the visit you promised to Mrs. Clemm. I will 
try to fix that matter soon. Could you do any 
thing with my note ? Yours truly, 

" E. A. P." 

32 



BIOGRAPHICAL BACKGROUND 

Virginia did not die until 1847. But year by 
year she lingered as if in the moment of depar 
ture. Few things are more trying to the nerves 
than a protracted farewell ; and, when the parting 

is for ever ! It is not surprising that Poe s 

tendency found slight resistance to its growth 
during these years. 

Griswold describes his home in Philadelphia : 

" When once he sent for me to visit him, 
during a period of illness caused by protracted 
and anxious watching at the side of his sick wife, 
I was impressed by the singular neatness and the 
air of refinement in his home. It was in a small 
house, in one of the pleasant and silent neigh 
bourhoods far from the centre of the town, and 
though slightly and cheaply furnished, every 
thing in it was so tasteful and fitly disposed that 
it seemed altogether suitable for a man of genius. 
For this and for most of the comforts he enjoyed, 
in his brightest as in his darkest years, he was 
chiefly indebted to his mother-in-law, who loved 
him with more than maternal devotion and 
constancy." 

During the summer of 1843, he began lectur 
ing with a fierce attack on Griswold s Poets and 
Poetry of America. He is not likely to have 
lectured without thinking of the art of oratory, 
and discovering laws to which he did his best to 
adhere. But we can guess at the character of 
his delivery from the various notes that have 

33 c 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

been left describing his manner of conversation. 
Mrs. Osgood, for example, speaks of his "pure 
and almost celestial eloquence." Griswold de 
scribed it as supra-mortal. " His voice was 
modulated with astonishing skill, and his large 
and variably expressive eyes looked repose or 
shot fiery tumult into those who listened, while 
his own face glowed, or was changeless in pallor, 
as his imagination quickened his blood or drew 
it back frozen to his heart." Mrs. Whitman 
noticed that "the strange fascination the un 
matched charm of his conversation consisted in 
its genuineness." We are to imagine a less 
rotund Coleridge, who meant what he said, and 
seemed, as he said it, to mean it perhaps more 
vehemently than he did. We are to imagine 
this man leaving his extreme poverty and his 
slowly dying wife, and lecturing on poetry to 
well-fed and comfortable audiences. 



VIII 

Poe returned to Grahams Magazine as a con 
tributor, and seems to have recovered a semi 
official position on the paper. But he was soon 
again projecting a paper of his own, that was to 
be a kind of co-operative Edinburgh Review, 
with an editor to be chosen by election. 

34 



BIOGRAPHICAL BACKGROUND 

Throughout his life as a journalist runs this 
continuous thread of hope that he would one 
day control a paper, and build up such a power 
ful weapon of criticism as Christopher North had 
fashioned in Blackwoods. 

In 1844, when Grahams deserted him, he 
went, almost penniless, to New York. He took 
Virginia with him, and Mrs. Clemm followed. 
For some time they lived on his earnings as a 
free lance, and starved, because the rates of pay 
were small, and he could not publish enough 
work to overcome this handicap in his struggle 
for bread and butter. Then, for a time, he was 
a minor assistant on another man s paper, where 
he bore his humiliating position with a good 
grace, and won the rather patronising praise of 
his editor. In January, 1845, he published The 
Raven in this paper, The Evening Mirror, and 
it was reprinted in The American Whig Review, 
This raised his value as a contributor, in giving 
him a wider celebrity than he had won from his 
tales and criticisms. He left The Evening 
Mirror, and opened another of his adventures 
as an editor. He joined The Broadway Journal 
which had just come into existence, and, as with 
the Messenger, speedily became its chief contri 
butor, and finally its motive power. The tenth 
number of the Journal announces as editors 
C. F. Briggs, Edgar A. Poe, and H. C. Watson. 

85 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

The first number of the second volume is " edited 
by Edgar A. Poe and Henry C. Watson." The 
sixteenth number of the second volume announces 
" Edgar A. Poe, Editor and Proprietor," and the 
twenty- sixth number, January 3, 1846, contains 
this note : 

" VALEDICTORY. 

"UNEXPECTED engagements demanding my 
whole attention, and the objects being fulfilled, 
so far as regards myself personally, for which 
The Broadway Journal was established, I now, 
as its editor, bid farewell as cordially to foes as 
to friends. 

" Mr. Thomas H. Lowe is authorized to 
collect all money due the Journal. 

" EDGAR A. POE." 

The Broadway Journal had come to an end. 
Poe had acquired it in exchange for a promis 
sory note which Horace Greeley endorsed and 
had to meet. Poe borrowed from Griswold to 
pay his printers. He succeeded in raising the 
circulation, but a few borrowed dollars will not 
run a paper, and the paper died as proudly as it 
might. 

In New York he came to know some literary 
ladies, who were to take a strange part in the 
latter years of his life. One of them, Mrs. 
Osgood, whose poetry he admired, wrote, when 
he was dead, a description of him which, though 

36 



BIOGRAPHICAL BACKGROUND 

it betrays her own character more clearly than 
his, is yet worth reading as a sidelight upon the 
colour of his existence : 

" It was in his own simple yet poetical home 
that to me the character of Edgar Foe appeared 
in its most beautiful light. Playful, affectionate, 
witty, alternately docile and wayward as a petted 
child, for his young, gentle, and idolised wife, 
and for all who came, he had, even in the midst 
of his most harassing literary duties, a kind word, 
a pleasant smile, a graceful and courteous atten 
tion. At his desk beneath the romantic picture 
of his loved and lost Lenore, he would sit, hour 
after hour, patient, assiduous, and uncomplain 
ing, tracing, in an exquisitely clear chirography, 
and with almost superhuman swiftness, the light 
ning thoughts the rare and radiant fancies 
as they flashed through his wonderful and 
ever-wakeful brain. I recollect one morning, 
toward the close of his residence in this city, 
when he seemed unusually gay and light-hearted. 
Virginia, his sweet wife, had written me a press 
ing invitation to come to them ; and I, who 
never could resist her affectionate summons, and 
who enjoyed his society far more in his own 
home than elsewhere, hastened to Amity Street. 
I found him just completing his series of papers 
entitled The Literati of New York. See, 
said he, displaying in laughing triumph several 
little rolls of narrow paper (he always wrote thus 
for the press), I am going to show you by the 
difference of length in these the different degrees 

37 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

of estimation in which I hold all you literary 
people. In each of these one of you is rolled up 
and fully discussed. Come, Virginia, help me ! 
And one by one they unfolded them. At last 
they came to one which seemed interminable. 
Virginia laughingly ran to one corner of the 
room with one end, and her husband to the 
opposite with the other. And whose length 
ened sweetness long drawn out is that ? said I. 
Hear her ! he cried. Just as if her little 
vain heart didn t tell her it s herself ! 

Poe found in the friendship of women a stimu 
lant that took in the end as powerful a hold on 
him as drink. His wife did not satisfy his 
needs of intellectual courtship, and she even 
asked Mrs. Osgood to allow and to suffer her 
husband s letters. Mrs. Osgood may not have 
loved Poe, but she describes "his proud and 
beautiful head erect, his dark eyes flashing with 
the electric light of feeling and of thought," 
and says that "to a sensitive and delicately 
nurtured woman, there was a peculiar and irre 
sistible charm in the chivalric, graceful, and 
almost tender reverence with which he invari 
ably approached all women who won his respect." 
She retained her feeling for him till she died, 
though, at the end of the first year of their 
acquaintanceship, busybodies had made their 
meetings impossible. 

During that year he moved out of New York 

38 



BIOGRAPHICAL BACKGROUND 

fr 

to the little cottage at Fordham which has 
usurped the pretensions of all his other resting- 
places, and come to represent Poe s home life. 
He only lived there during the last two and a 
half years of his forty. Mrs. Whitman, who in 
the last act of his life became an important 
person of the drama, described it as "a little 
Dutch cottage . . . bordered by a flower 
garden, whose clumps of rare dahlias and 
brilliant beds of fall flowers showed, in the 
careful culture bestowed upon them, the fine 
floral taste of the inmates." The cottage was 
half buried in fruit trees. Mrs. Clemm, as 
always, did the work, and the three of them 
must there have had some happiness from their 
lives. They had pets, a bobolink and a parrot, 
arid a cat that used to sit on Poe s shoulder as 
he wrote. 

But they became so poor that a public appeal 
was made for them, which Poe was too proud to 
allow without protest. Friends cared for them, 
fed them, and nursed the now rapidly sinking 
Virginia. She died on January 30, 1847, at the 
age of twenty-four. Poe was worn out by priva 
tion and anxiety, and fell seriously ill. 



39 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 



IX 

He slowly recovered, and spent the remainder 
of the year in thinking out and writing Eureka. 
He published Ulalume in December. His 
Murders in the Rue Morgue had been stolen by 
more than one French paper, and the first French 
criticism upon him had appeared in the Revue 
des Deux Mondes. Baudelaire was about to 
devote the better part of his life to the exposition 
of his doctrines and the translation of his work. 
But Poe could not know this, and the loneliness 
that followed him to his death began to be 
oppressive. He was, however, again full of the 
hope of founding a magazine. On January 22, 
1840, he wrote to Willis : 

" MY DEAR MR. WILLIS, I am about to make 
an effort at re-establishing myself in the literary 
world, and feel that I may depend upon your aid. 

" My general aim is to start a Magazine, to be 
called The Stylus, but it would be useless to me, 
even when established, if not entirely out of the 
control of a publisher. I mean, therefore, to get 
up a Journal which shall be my own, at all points. 
With this end in view, I must get a list of, at 
least, five hundred subscribers to begin with : 
nearly two hundred I have already. I propose, 
however, to go South and West, among my 
personal and literary friends old college and 

40 



BIOGRAPHICAL BACKGROUND 

West Point acquaintances and see what I can 
do. In order to get the means of taking the first 
step, I propose to lecture at the Society Library, 
on Thursday the 3d of February and that there 
may be no cause of squabbling, my subject shall 
not be literary at all. I have chosen a broad text 
-< The Universe. 

" Having thus given you the facts of the case, I 
leave all the rest to the suggestion of your own tact 
and generosity. Gratefully most gratefully 
" Your friend always, 

"EDGAR A. POE." 

The lecture was an abridged version of Eureka. 
It did not bring him the money for which he had 
hoped. He repeated elsewhere his lecture on 
The Poetic Principle. But The Stylus was never 
to appear. 

I have already spoken of his friendships for 
women, encouraged, in the case of Mrs. Osgood, 
by his w r ife. After her death, his need of feminine 
companionship became a disease. He could not 
do without it. This was no physical m^d, nor 
even " falling in love." It had two motives. 

o 

He could not be satisfied with the motherly and 
man-servant-like attention of Mrs. Clemm, but 
felt an imperious need of marriage, of being 
married, of being re-established in life on a firm 
basis, as he hoped with his paper to re-establish 
himself in literary America. A wife became a 
thing as full of beckoning promise to him as 

41 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

The Stylus. He sought both with equal abandon. 
Beside this new motive was another. He had 
loved Virginia, but, even while she was alive, had 
sought to live other poems with other women. 
They were harmless little German poems, of 
holding hands, and walks in the dusk, and 
meetings of mystery-laden eyes. They were part 
of his life, and we are now given the dishearten 
ing spectacle of Poe making love to two or three 
middle-aged women at once, and oscillating in his 
mind between several prospects of married life 
under the care of different guardian angels of lite 
rary tastes. No more brain- wrecking condition 
can be imagined, and its harassments were not 
lessened by his other and more physical disease. 

Within a year of his death he had written to 
Mrs. Whitman : 

" The agonies which I have lately endured have 
passed my soul through fire. Henceforth I am 
strong. This those who love me shall know as 
well as those who have so relentlessly sought to 
ruin me. ... I have absolutely no pleasure in 
the stimulants in which I sometimes so madly 
indulge. It has not been in the pursuit of 
pleasure that I have perilled life and reputation 
and reason. It has been in the desperate attempt 
to escape from torturing memories memories 
of wrong and injustice and imputed dishonour 
from a sense of insupportable loneliness and a 
dread of some strange impending doom." 

42 



BIOGRAPHICAL BACKGROUND 

But the two diseases reacted on each other, 
and soon frenzied wooings alternated with bouts 
of drinking. He was also taking laudanum. 
Now one marriage was arranged and now another. 
It is surprising that he still wrote. During 1849, 
he lectured again on The Poetic Principle, and 
made renewed efforts to secure money for The 
Stylus. He more than once had serious warn 
ings of t]ie rapid approach of his end. He had, 
however, at Richmond a St. Martin s summer of 
happiness with some friends. He prepared to 
settle at Richmond, but, on a journey to New 
York, stopped at Baltimore and drank enough 
to make further travelling impossible. The 
elections were being fought, and canvassers find 
ing him already drunk, kept him so, and dragged 
him about from place to place to record his vote for 
their candidate. On October 3, he was recognised 
and taken to the hospital in delirium tremens. 
The manner of his death suggests that of Bamp- 
fylde, described in one of Southey s letters. 
After a bountiful youth of open air and poetry, 
he had come to town, and found his way into a 
madhouse, only recovering his reason and freedom 
to die of a consumption. The doctor urged him 
to go to Devonshire, saying his friends would be 
glad to see him. " He hid his face and answered, 
No, sir ; they who saw me what I was, shall 
never see me what I am. Just so died Poe, on 

43 



EDGAR ALLAN FOE 

October 7, 1849. The resident physician at the 
hospital told him he hoped " that in a few days 
he would be able to enjoy the society of his 
friends. ... At this he broke out with much 
energy, and said the best thing his best friend 
could do would be to blow out his brains with a 
pistol."* He became delirious again, and then, 
at three o clock of a Sunday morning grew quiet, 
and died, saying "Lord help my poor soul." 

* Letter from Dr. Moran to Mrs. Clemm. Woodberry. 



44 



A PRELIMINARY NOTE ON 
POE S CRITICISM 



A PRELIMINARY NOTE ON 
POE S CRITICISM 

THERE is a stridency in Poe s critical writings 
that we do not find elsewhere. Even the rude 
essays of the old Blackwood and Quarterly 
reviewers sound a fuller note, a rounder tone. 
And, among men on Poe s level, Hazlitt argues, 
i Leigh Hunt recites, and Lamb insinuates, all 
with a tenderer regard for listeners ears. These 
are English critics, but Lowell, with whom, as 
an American, it is fairer to compare Poe, " roars 
you as gently as any sucking dove." I call 
! Lowell an American, but the distinction between 
them, to which is due Poe s stridency and 
Lowell s mildness is this : Lowell, from his 
\ study window, compliments his readers with the 
I assumption that they are of the Old World or 
| as good in the same way ; Poe lectures frankly 
j from an American tub to an audience of 
j Americans, and, his subject being what it is, 
j far from their common interests, it is not sur 
prising that he has to shout to make his speeches 
heard. 

47 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

English criticism had influenced Poe s youth. 
Coleridge s Biographia Literaria, that hetero 
geneous, mazelike work, in whose blind alleys 
and unfinished roads there is more than in any 
other English book of searching kmledge of 
the processes and ends of composition, shaped 
Poe s conception of the object of writing, and 
started him on his quest of an aesthetic theory. 
In the Letter to B , with which he pre 
faced an early edition of his poems, he adopts, 
knowingly or unknowingly it is irrelevant to 
discuss, Coleridge s words. 

Coleridge writes : " A poem is that species of 
composition, which is opposed to works of science, 
by proposing for its immediate object pleasure, 
not truth. . . ." 

Poe : " A poem, in my opinion, is opposed to a 
work of science by having, for its immediate 
object, pleasure, not truth. . . . 

The phrase " in my opinion " being true, 
justifies him, I suppose, in using the words of 
the man by whom the opinion had been formed. 
Coleridge walks like a ghost through much of 
Poe s criticism, although their understandings of 
a critic s duties were directly opposite. England 
and America needed differently built reviewers. * 

" He who tells me," writes Coleridge, " that 
there are defects in a new work, tells me nothing 

48 



PRELIMINARY NOTE 

which I should not have taken for granted with 
out his information. But he who points out 
and elucidates the beauties of an original work 
does indeed give me interesting information, such 
as experience would not have authorised me in 
anticipating." 

Coleridge s reviewer was such a man as Leigh 
Hunt, whose scattered italics bring his voice to 
us across the garden where he reads, or, through a 
subtler development of the same spirit, such a 
man as Pater, in whose company our eyes are 
awakened to the tinted mist that rises from the 
flowers the mist that perhaps we had not before 
been able to perceive. Such a critic was, some 
times, that old Greek pedagogue of whom Pope 
wrote : 

" See Dionysius Homer s thoughts refine 
And call new Beauties forth from ev ry Line." 

His choice of beauties is indeed valuable, 
balanced as it is by a wise selection of defects 
from other writers. Pater s disentanglements 
and drawings-out of loveliness are like Carrire s 
pictures in their leisurely revelation. Leigh 
Hunt s turned-down leaves and marked passages 
give his criticism the charm of reading aloud. 

Poe s criticism is without charm, and he 
resembles Dionysius writing of Hegesias more 
often than Dionysius quoting Homer or playing 

49 D 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

showman to Sappho. He had sterner work to 
do than Hunt s or Pater s. We have to remem 
ber the America in which he wrote. Its criti 
cism, when he began to write, was a tumult of 
timid flattery and unreasoning praise. America 
had so lately ceased to be a colony that the Old 
World was still indiscriminately reverenced at the 
expense of the New. Its homegrown civilisation 
was so fresh that accomplishment, however poor, 
was more often admired than judged. American 
letters were on the one hand neglected for 
European, and on the other uncritically praised 
because they were American. Poe was clear in 
his denunciation of both these evils. 

" You are aware of the great barrier in the , 
path of an American writer. He is read, if at 
all, in preference to the combined and estab 
lished wit of the world. I say established ; for 
it is with literature as with law or empire an 
established name is an estate in tenure, or a 
throne in possession. Besides, one might sup 
pose that books, like their authors, improve by 
travel their having crossed the sea is, with us, 
so great a distinction. Our antiquaries abandon 
time for distance ; our very fops glance from the 
binding to the bottom of the title-page, where 
the mystic characters which spell London, Paris, 
or Genoa, are precisely so many letters of recom 
mendation." 

This complaint holds the grievance of all 
50 



PRELIMINARY NOTE 

young writers, who see the bony fingers of 
Shakespeare and Spenser reaching from the 
grave to pluck the cloaks of those who, unde- 
tained, might read the books just published by 
themselves. That is hard, but Americans of 
Foe s time suffered a competition more unfair, 
A writer who felt himself peer to some at least 
of the dead, saw his readers held from him not 
only by the classics but by a thousand medio 
crities whose foreign birth alone gave them the 
word before him. 

Poe complained of this handicap but did not 
spare the faults he saw at home. He would 
have no petting of his countrymen. 

" It is folly to assert, as some at present are 
fond of asserting, that the literature of any 
nation or age was ever injured by plain speak 
ing on the part of the critics. As for American 
letters, plain speaking about them is, simply, the 
one thing needed. They are in a condition of 
absolute quagmire a quagmire, to use the 
words of Victor Hugo, doii on ne pent se tirer 
par des periphrases par des quemadmodums et 
des verumenimveros. 9 

American criticism had not the dignity that 
could raise the standard of American judgment, 
being fully occupied in unlimited praise of the 
foreigner and hurried praise of its friends, com- 

51 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

paring them one by one to the models it un- 
questioningly imported. 

" When we attend less to * authority, " wrote 
Poe, " and more to principles, when we look less 
at merit and more at demerit (instead of the 
converse, as some persons suggest), we shall 
then be better critics than we are. We must 
neglect our models and study our capabilities. 
The mad eulogies, on what occasionally has, in 
letters, been well done, spring from our imperfect 
comprehension of what it is possible for us to do 
better. A man who has never seen the sun, 
says Calderon, cannot be blamed for thinking 
that no glory can exceed that of the moon ; a 
man who has seen neither moon nor sun cannot 
be blamed for expatiating on the incomparable 
effulgence of the morning star. Now it is the 
business of the critic so to soar that he shall see 
the sun, even although its orb be far below the 
ordinary horizon." 

In America were many morning stars who 
had not their friends to thank if they did not 
mistake themselves for suns. According to the 
newspapers, whose short-sighted eyes are always 
easily dazzled, the sky was ablaze with light. It 
was impossible to look " full in the face of the 
blue firmament," so thickly clustered and so 
radiant were the false centres of the solar 
system. A Poe was indeed needed who could 
sight the true orb, and, having seen it, put out 

52 



PRELIMINARY NOTE 

the lesser lights. He stated accordingly a 
principle of criticism the exact opposite of 
Coleridge s, and, in putting it upon a philoso 
phical basis, the practical reason for it not 
sufficing him, came upon an important link in 
the chain of his aesthetic theory. 

"Boccalini, in his Advertisements from 
Parnassus, tells us that a critic once presented 
Apollo with a severe censure upon an excellent 
poem. The god asked him for the beauties of 
the work. He replied that he only troubled 
himself about the errors. Apollo presented him 
with a sack of unwinnowed wheat, and bade him 
pick out all the chaff for his pains. Now we 
have not fully made up our minds that the god 
was in the right. We are not sure that the limit 
of critical duty is not very generally misappre 
hended. Excellence may be considered an 
axiom, or a proposition which becomes self- 
evident just in proportion to the clearness or 
precision with which it is put. If it fairly exists, 
in this sense, it requires no further elucidation. 
It is not excellence if it need to be demonstrated 
as such. To point out too particularly the 
beauties of a work is to admit, tacitly, that these 
beauties are not wholly admirable. Regarding 
then excellence as that which is capable of self- 
manifestation, it but remains for the critic to 
show when, where, and how it fails in becoming 
manifest; and, in this showing, it will be the 
fault of the book itself if what of beauty it 
contains be not, at least, placed in the fairest 

53 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

light. In a word, we may assume, notwith 
standing a vast deal of pitiable cant upon this 
topic, that in pointing out frankly the errors of a 
work, we do nearly all that is critically necessary 
in displaying its merits. In teaching what per 
fection is, how, in fact, shall we more rationally 
proceed than in specifying what it is not ? " 

He approaches here the theory of Benedetto 
Croce, a comparison of whose ideas with Poe s 
always illumines the unseen object of his 
thought. Reading beauty for excellence, which, 
after examining our definition of beauty, Poe 
would have allowed, we can more clearly under 
stand his view.* Beauty, or expression, is self- 
evident in so far as it is truly beauty, truly 
expression. To demonstrate it as such is only 
to repeat it in identical terms, or to say that a 
thing that is the same thing is equal to the same 
thing ; and this is waste of time. It is more 
profitable to note those moments of self-contra 
diction, those small mutinies that, quarrelling 
with individual beauties, destroy the whole ex 
pression. A cultivated sensitiveness to discord 
is the same thing as an appreciation of harmony. 

These were the reasons, this the principle that 
determined the character of Poe s criticism, and 
made his articles, even on the poets he admired 
like Mrs. Browning read like attacks. They 

* In another passage he makes the substitution himself. 

54 



PRELIMINARY NOTE 

are indeed unfair unless we have given the ex 
cellences of the books reviewed an opportunity 
for self-manifestation. Many critics, rightly 
caring that their work should be itself creative 
and valuable on its own account, are indifferent 
as to whether we have read or seen the books 
or pictures that have engendered it. Pater s 
Mona Lisa can be enjoyed by those who have 
not been to the Louvre to see Leonardo s. A 
knowledge of Villon s poetry is not necessary 
to a just delight in Stevenson s essay on his 
favourite vagabond. But Poe, perhaps unwisely, 
paid his readers the compliment of supposing 
that they read the books first and his criticisms 
afterwards. 

Three volumes of his collected works are filled 
with judgments upon English and American 
literature, and with essays upon his art, uncon 
nected with particular books. There is much 
here that is worthless, but it is easy to winnow 
the grain of his intended criticism from the chaff 
of unformed opinion, praise written only for the 
day and blame that had not had time to grow 
philosophical. There is no need to judge a 
man s aim by those occasions on which Forced 
Haste, an unfriendly hand, pulls his arm aside at 
the moment of loosing the arrow, or sends the 
shaft upon its way before his eye is steady on 
the target. In thinking of Poe s critical work, 

55 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

we think of his Hawthorne, and his Philo 
sophy of Composition, and the other essays 
whose temper of mind lets them share with 
these a swift and dry-shod life. 

These essays turn readily from a discussion of 
this or that volume to speculation on the prin 
ciples of literature. The needs of American 
letters are often forgotten for a higher purpose, 
and few books of criticism are more valuable to 
writers who care worthily for the art they prac 
tise. Narrative, plot, inversion, the length of 
poems, all the secrets of literature s harmony 
and counterpoint, are one after another his 
subject. With such a view of criticism as was 
his it is not surprising that he does not often 
describe his own adventures among masterpieces, 
though here and there are vivid fragments of 
characterisation. Of Coleridge, for example : 

"In reading his poetry, I tremble like one 
who stands upon a volcano, conscious from the 
very darkness bursting from the crater, of the 
fire and light that are weltering below." 

Of Macaulay : 

" . . . we assent to what he says too often 
because we so very clearly understand what it is 
that he intends to say. Comprehending vividly 
the points and the sequence of his argument, we 
fancy that we are concurring in the argument 
itself." 

56 



PRELIMINARY NOTE 

Of Defoe : 

" Not one person in ten nay not one person in 
five hundred has, during the perusal of Robin 
son Crusoe, the most remote conception that any 
particle of genius, or even of common talent, has 
been employed in its creation. Men do not look 
upon it in the light of a literary performance. 
Defoe has none of their thoughts Robinson all. 
The powers which have wrought the wonder 
have been thrust into obscurity by the very 
stupendousriess of the wonder they have wrought. 
We read and become perfect abstractions in the 
intensity of our interest ; we close the book, and 
are quite satisfied that we could have written as 
well ourselves." 

These fragments, which are just and careful, are 
certainly balanced by opinions on other writers 
with which time has not brought the world to 
agree, or kept it in agreement. Poe praised 
Moore extravagantly, and also Hood ; but, per 
haps because of his dislike of seers and teachers, 
could not bring himself to write with courtesy 
of Emerson or Carlyle. 

It is not by such passages or opinions that his 
criticism can be judged. Many theorists astonish 
us by the wrongness or rightness of their examples 
without in either case affecting the truth of the 
argument. And Poe s interest was less in indi 
viduals than in the principles and nature of their 
art. The De Sublimitate of Longinus might 

57 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

be paralleled with a Concerning Beauty made 
up entirely of quotations from Poe s critical 
work. Indeed this book is, in a humble manner, 
such a collection. It is impossible to discuss 
Poe s practice without reference to what he has 
himself written on his theory. I have placed 
this chapter first because it overflows into all the 
others. I think it better to consider his views 
on the length of a poem while writing of his 
poetry, and his ideas on story -telling while writing 
of his tales, to take only two examples, than to 
crowd these and many other fertile opinions into 
an essay either too long for the book or too short 
for their illustration. His views on self-conscious 
art were in any case too important not to need 
a chapter to themselves. 

It is sufficient here ta point out that in 
these three volumes, strident in pitch, often 
exaggerated in tone, sometimes difficult to 
read with patience, lie the greater number of his 
efforts towards an aesthetic philosophy. As he 
worked, so he thought, and observed his work 
and that of other men. His skill and observa 
tion grew with each other s growth. Building 
on the foundation that held excellence to be 
itself manifest, Poe raised for himself a structure 
of knowledge about the means of avoiding ugli 
ness or failure in expression. There is no rule 
for the creation of beauty, but there are many 

58 



PRELIMINARY NOTE 

for freeing loveliness from its fetters. Perseus 
cannot make an Andromeda, but he can loose 
her from the rock. The varying, hazardous 
nature of Poe s conception of beauty will be 
come clear to us as we proceed. She appeared 
to him in changing veils, now pure and trans 
parent, now dimmed and opaque with lesser 
heresies, but never beneath a veil so darkening 
as that through which she shows to men who 
have never troubled to cleanse their eyes or to 
ask themselves what indeed they see. No other 
goddess has suffered such violence at the hands 
of her worshippers, none has been so cheapened 
in the mouths of her talkative priests. Poe at 
least tried to set her on her throne, and pro 
scribed as irreverent those side glances towards 
didacticism that bring ruin to so many of those 
who should have been her single-minded ser 
vants. He did this in the heat of battle ; and, 
whenever the smoke cleared about him, he did 
more; setting her by herself, and demanding 
desperately, from men who did not care, that 
her religion should be uncontaminated by ethic, 
unblurred by passion, and that the goddess 
should be served with the high obedience she 
demands, and worshipped with the spiritual 
exaltation properly her own. 



59 



SELF-CONSCIOUS 
TECHNIQUE 



SELF-CONSCIOUS 
TECHNIQUE 

THERE is a note, one of a series of Marginalia, 
jetsam from old reviews, and new paragraphs too 
careful to be unpremeditated, whose light must 
not be hidden under the bushel of a general dis 
cussion of Poe s criticism. " It is the curse," he 
says, "of a certain order of mind, that it can 
never rest satisfied with the consciousness of its 
ability to do a thing. Not even is it content 
with doing it. It must both know and show 
how it was done." Now this is the curse that 
gave us Leonardo s notebooks, Reynolds Dis 
courses, and Stevenson s essay on Some Tech 
nical Elements in Style : the curse that is among 
the reasons of Leonardo s excellence, Reynolds 
excellence, Stevenson s excellence and the ex 
cellence of Foe himself. . It is the curse that is 
at the bottom of all public knowledge of tech 
nique. The man who 4s as interested in the way 
of doing a thing as in the thing when done, is 
the man who is likely to put a new tool into the 
hands of his fellow-craftsmen. Such men some- 

63 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

times suffer for their curiosity. Poe called it a 
curse because he feared it while enjoying it. He 
learnt that it is possible for an artist to debauch 
in technique as for a lover to take the body for 
the soul, and that in one case as in the other it 
is the spirit that is lost. 

Poe s own methods came gradually to be such 
a delight to him ; his interest in them was so 
particularised by his essays in criticism and in 
the observation of the methods of other men, 
that some of his later works have an uncanny 
atmosphere about them, as if he had not written 
them himself, but had been present, passionately 
observant and critical, while they were being 
written by some one else. Imagination, from 
being a queen, sometimes becomes in them that 
slave of the intellect which is called fancy. They 
are richly-coloured marionettes that have never 
lived, but owe a wire-hung activity to their 
maker s cleverness. Poe was too good an ob 
server of himself not to notice his -danger. He 
must have known that he ran a risk of dying 
for Art, as a greater than { he had died for Life. 
It was his destiny, and he pursued it. More 
than once he used his pen to make a new thing 
out of a discussion of an old one, and on these 
occasions he dissects his own motives in so im 
personal a manner that it is difficult for the 
reader to remember that the author examining 

64 



SELF-CONSCIOUS TECHNIQUE 

is in any way connected with the author under 
going examination. The Haven, for example, a 
profound piece of technique, is scarcely as pro 
found, and certainly not as surprising, as the 
Philosophy of Composition, in which its con 
struction is minutely analysed, and Poe callously 
explains, as a matter of scientific rather than 
personal interest, that the whole poem was built 
on the refrain Nevermore, and that this par 
ticular refrain was chosen on account of the 
sonority and ease of o and r sounded together. 
Baudelaire, in calling attention to a poet " qui 
pretend que son po&me a ete compose d apres son 
poetique," remarks that " apres tout un peu de 
charlatanerie est toujours permis au g^nie, et 
meme ne lui messied pas. C est comme le fard 
sur les pommettes d une femme naturellement 
belle, un assaisonnement nouveau pour 1 esprit." 
Mountebank or not, Poe was serious in his state 
ment. It was not intended as a hoax, but 
carried real aspiration into actuality, and noted, 
in their extreme manifestation, the workings 
possible to such a mind as Poe felt was his own. 
In that article he tries to carry a point. Half- 
measures are no measures in oratory, and, the 
truth being on his side, he might well be per 
mitted to say more than the truth in stating it 
to an audience. We are concerned here less 
with what he says than with the point of view 

65 E 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

that lets him say it. How different is this way 
of talking about writing from the anecdote of 
Hoffmann, who held his wife s hand lest, in 
terror of the phantasmagoria he created, he 
should lose his reason and forget the existence of 
a homelier and less delirious world. How dif 
ferent from the letters of Balzac, noting joyously 
the amount of paper he had daily been able to 
cover. How different from the tale of Scott s 
tireless hand, or the account of George Sand, 
writing with babies on her knees, starting her 
characters on their careers, keeping beside them 
with fluent pen, and following their adventures 
as ignorant as themselves of the end towards 
which they were progressing. 

Another man, who, like Poe, was at once a 
philosopher and deeply interested in technique, 
had lived and written, and from him Poe had that 
strengthening of his ideas that is given by out 
side confirmation. He refers often to William 
Godwin, the author of An Enquiry concerning 
Political Justice and of several novels, among 
them one now most undeservedly half-forgotten, 
called Caleb Williams. There is a character 
of Godwin in The Spirit of the Age, where 
Hazlitt has noted that " his forte is not the 
spontaneous but the voluntary exercise of talent," 
a sentence which, if Poe read it, would have been 
enough to interest him in its subject. He " re- 

66 



SELF-CONSCIOUS TECHNIQUE 

minded those who knew him of the Meta 
physician engrafted on the Dissenting Minister." 
Shelley, who repaid him in the end by running 
away with his daughter, wrote him boy s letters 
which he answered with chapter and verse on 
the conduct of life taken from the Political 
Justice. He was a sombre man, and his novel 
is a sombre, muscular book, worth reading still 
for other reasons besides the anatomy which at 
present concerns us. It is seldom possible to 
point to any one book as the sign-post of a 
literary cross-roads, but there can be no doubt 
that in Caleb Williams we can see the begin 
nings of self-conscious technique in story-telling. 
Hazlitt wrote of it : " No one ever began Caleb 
Williams that did not read it through ; no one 
that ever read it could possibly forget it, or 
speak of it after any length of time, but with an 
impression as if the events and feelings had been 
personal to himself." And the author had not 
only done this, but had known how it was done. 
It is usual to say that Poe himself was the first 
to talk of choosing an effect and then planning a 
tale to produce it. But Caleb Williams was 
published in 1794, and, in a preface to one of 
the later editions, Godwin gave his methods 
away. On him also lay that fruitful curse. He 
wrote : rr I formed a conception of a book of f ) 
fictitious adventure that should in some way be 

67 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

distinguished by a very powerful interest. Pur 
suing this idea, I invented first the third volume 
, ;of my tale, then the second, and last of all the 

(tat" 

Godwin, perhaps, did not realise how revolu 
tionary was his attitude ; and even Hazlitt, 
delighted as he was by their results, does not 
seem to have noticed the novelty of his methods. 
Dickens mentioned them to Poe in writing to 
him about his ingenious article on the mechanism 
of Barnaby Rudge, and Poe, finding Godwin s 
ideas of the very temper of his own, developed 
them logically as far as they would go, and, in 
two paragraphs that I shall quote, formulated 
clearly the principles of self-conscious technique. 

But, before reading them, we have to examine 
a proposition assumed by the title of this chapter, 
and by all that has been written in it. It is easy 
to talk about things that have not been defined, 
but impossible to talk about them profitably. 
We have assumed that there is a well-understood 
difference between conception and craftsmanship. 
Let us justify the assumption. Until we have 
done so we are playing at battledore with a 
shuttlecock that does not exist. 

We must find for our own satisfaction an 
intelligible process for the miracle of beauty s 
creation. There is no need to break our heads 
on the rash enterprise of proving that there is no 

68 



SELF-CONSCIOUS TECHNIQUE 

miracle at all. Let us leave that to those who 
can believe that a theory of our descent from 
protoplasm explains not only our growth but our 
original birth. In the making of all beautiful 
things, poems, stories, pictures, in the making of 
all things that bring us, beside their emotion of 
pain or joy or passion, a breath of that ecstasy 
that is not of earth and gives us kinship with the 
conscious Gods, there is a miracle. The pro 
cesses of art of which we are about to speak are 
but the reverent preparation of the altar on which 
the miracle will be performed, the holy fire will 
fall, or the bread be turned to living flesh. 
Shelley, in The Defence of Poetry, writes : 

" A man cannot say, f I will compose poetry. 
The greatest poet even cannot say it ; for the 
mind in creation is as a fading coal, which some 
invisible influence, like an inconstant wind, 
awakens to transitory brightness; this power 
arises from within, like the colour of a flower 
which fades and changes as it is developed, and 
the conscious portions of our natures are un- 
prophetic either of its approach or its departure. 
Could this influence be durable in its original 
purity and force, it is impossible to predict the 
greatness of the results ; but when composition 
begins, inspiration is already on the decline, and 
the most glorious poetry that has ever been 
communicated to the world is probably a feeble 
shadow of the original conception of the poet. I 
appeal to the greatest poets of the present day, 

69 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

whether it is not an error to assert that the finest 
passages of poetry are produced by labour and 
study. The toil and delay recommended by critics, 
can be justly interpreted to mean no more than 
a careful observation of the inspired moments, 
and an artificial connexion of the spaces between 
their suggestions by the intertexture of conven 
tional expressions ; a necessity only imposed by 
the limitedness of the poetical faculty itself, for 
Milton conceived the Paradise Lost as a whole 
before he executed it in portions." 

This passage, true in spirit as it is, is carried 
away from truth by reason of its parti pris. It 
contains the truth glossed into untruth in a few 
important sentences by the choice of words which 
imply rather than openly state an incorrect appre 
ciation of the processes under discussion. The 
use of the word conventional, when Shelley talks 
of the "artificial connexion" of the spaces between 
the suggestions of the "inspired moments," is 
enough to throw the reader off the scent, or 
rather to let him mistake the true trail for a 
herring drag, and therefore to desist at the most 
promising moment of his pursuit. 

I am not unconscious of the risk I take in 
describing what I believe to be the processes of 
literary creation. I cannot guard myself against 
another honest man who reads me with surprise, 
calls me a liar, and proves me such by references 
to the methods he notices are his own. Such a 

70 



SELF-CONSCIOUS TECHNIQUE 

man may read the following paragraph and smile ; 
but I ask him, before he gives me the lie, to 
examine carefully the process I describe, and to 
be sure that he is not quarrelling with me for the 
statement of his own belief in a language other 
than his. 

An artist is about to make a song. It does 
not often sing itself into his head, worded and 
tuned as he will write it down. Nor is it often 
present to his mind in words at all. It is more 
often but a nucleus two lines of poetry, bur 
dened with an invisible body that the artist has 
to find, a tune that asks for words or for its own 
completion, a presentiment of such and such an 
invisible burden that words and tune, if found, 
will bring into the light. The inferior artist is 
known by dead masks of verse that do not fit the 
unseen faces on which he has sought to mould, 
or by his good lines, which are the nuclei of 
poems he has not known how to write, and, set in 
songs that are not tuned to them, blossom sadly 
like real roses in gardens of artificial flowers. 

The true artist is he who is able to make the 
part of his poem indistinguishable in texture 
from the whole, who is able to baffle the inquisi 
tive reader asking which lines were first imagined, 
who is able, that is to say, to preserve an absolute 
unity between the nucleus and its elaboration. 
The nucleus may itself dictate the form it is to 

71 



EDGAH ALLAN POE 

fill, like the fragment of a statue implying the 
missing limbs, when the poet s business is faith 
fully to follow its suggestion. Or, if it be the 
presentiment of a whole, it will teach the poet, 
who is humble before it, with what delicacy or 
coarseness its veins are to be patterned, and what 
the texture of skin that its personality demands. 
Here, it is clear, is no question of an intertexture 
of conventional expressions, but rather the spread 
ing of some creeping vitality, sparklike and 
separate, until, at last, the whole material break 
into a flame. Here, however, lies the truth as 
well as the untruth of Shelley s statement. He 
interprets " the toil and delay recommended by 
critics " as "a careful observation of the inspired 
moments." And, indeed, the making of a work 
of art asks no more than a tender watchfulness 
over the original intuition. From every word 
the artist s mind flies back to its starting-point 
as if to refer each note to an infallible tuning- 
fork. One artist will write down as near as he 
can the whole of the poem that is in the making, 
and then go over it, removing all that contradicts 
the rest. A jigging run of words will be ordered 
to a due solemnity. A stately sentence will be 
made to trip as light as Ariel. The snowball 
meaning of a word the meaning it has gathered 
in its progress through the years may covertly 
deny the impression it is meant to give : he will 

72 



SELF-CONSCIOUS TECHNIQUE 

erase it from his mind or paper and write another 
less refractory. Thus gradually is the poem per 
fected, as a boat s crew, once at sixes and sevens, 
is trained to work in powerful unison. Another 
artist, who can better trust his memory, instead 
of working on a whole, will perfect line by line, 
conscious of all in writing each, so that when all 
are written there will be nothing to correct. In 
either case the mental process, and its object, is 
the same. The poet s "labour and study" are 
devoted to a striving for unity and an avoidance 
of hindrance. His care is, that the delicate 
breath of the original nucleus or inspiration may 
inspire all, and move as freely in the house it has 
built, the poet helping, as in the scrap of wall, or 
the phantom mansion, that was at first its sole 
possession and itself. 

Let Shelley appeal to Keats among "the 
greatest poets of the present day." Let Keats 
betray the genesis of a passage in Hyperion. 
I take my example from Mr. Buxton Forman s 
edition, where other readings than the final are 
printed below the page. Lines 72-79 of the 
poem were first written : 

" As when upon a tranced summer-night 
Those green-rob d senators of mighty woods, 
The Oaks stand charmed by the earnest 

Stars : 

And thus all night without a stir they rest 

73 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

Save for one sudden momentary gust 
Which comes upon the silence and dies off 
As if the Sea of Air had but one wave ; 
So came these words and went ; " 

Keats corrections of this text sharpen our feeling 
for ugliness and contradictory rhythm, and 
admirably illustrate the process of composition I 
have just described. The fourth line would 
suggest to any one that it needed tuning. " They 
rest " see-saws the attention rather than soothes it. 
The " st " at the end puzzlingly doubles that of 
" gust " in the next verse, with half a suggestion 
of rhyme. He substituted " remain." But the 
third line also needed improvement. " The oaks 
stand charmed " was a little weak and became 
" Tall oaks branch-charmed " leaving the verb 
over for the next line, which, either before this 
alteration or after it, disregarding the first tenta 
tive change, was rewritten " Dream and so dream 
all night without a stir." In the fifth line, " sud 
den momentary " though easily presenting them 
selves with the word " gust," falsified the image 
he was conveying. He avoided the staccato 
suggestion of " momentary " by writing " soli 
tary," and for " sudden " he substituted " gradual." 
" The Sea of Air " is a phrase, either ineffectual, 
or combating the main image with another too 
definitely stated. He wrote "as if the ebbing 
air," keeping the idea, but softening its impres- 

74 



SELF-CONSCIOUS TECHNIQUE 

sion. In the final version one inspiration is 
dominant throughout, and all contradiction has 
been cleared away. The passage, now unalter 
able poetry, reads : 

" As when, upon a tranced summer-night, 
Those green-rob d senators of mighty woods, 
Tall oaks, branch-charmed by the earnest 

stars, 

Dream, and so dream all night without a stir, 
Save from one gradual solitary gust 
Which comes upon the silence and dies off, 
As if the ebbing air had but one wave ; 
So came these words and went ; " 

Labour and study have had their value here, 
and their efforts, it is well to notice, have all 
been in one direction, unity, the unity of the 
passage with itself, and, though that would be 
more difficult to show in a couple of pages, the 
unity of the passage w r ith the whole poem. 

There is then a real difference between con 
ception and craftsmanship. Conception is that 
breath on the glowing coal of which Shelley 
speaks, and craftsmanship all that knowledge that 
helps the artist tenderly watching and remember 
ing that moment of brilliance, to prevent the 
intertexture from being made of conventional 
expressions, and, indeed, to lead the glowing 
sparks throughout the mass until the whole is 
kindled. 

75 



EDGAR ALLAN FOE 

When we write of " self-conscious technique " 
we mean this process carried out by men aware 
of the purpose of their work. Many absolute 
and unalterable things have been written by men 
without this knowledge, guided only by the 
memory of their moments of inspiration, in 
tolerant, without knowing why, of words and 
phrases that contradicted them. It has been left 
for writers of the last hundred and fifty years to 
discover what they and their ancestors have been 
doing, and so to hang shining lamps over the 
desks of other artists. Godwin s inverse method 
of writing his book was undertaken for the sake 
of the intensity of the interest he was determined 
to evoke. He knew that the intensity of an 
impression depended on its unity. His technique 
was rough, but it showed at least a general under 
standing of the principles of creation that have 
so long been recognised unstated. Poe went 
further than Godwin and demanded that story 
or poem should be one throughout, not only in 
framework (the object of Godwin s procedure) 
but also in detail, in sentence and in word. 

The first of the two paragraphs of which I 
spoke, is taken from an essay on Hawthorne 
published in 1842 : 

"A skilful literary artist has constructed a 
tale. If wise, he has not fashioned his thoughts 
to accommodate his incidents ; but having con- 

76 



SELF-CONSCIOUS TECHNIQUE 

ceived, with deliberate care, a certain unique or 
single effect to be wrought out, he then invents 
such incidents he then combines such events as 
may best aid him in establishing this preconceived 
effect. If his very initial sentence tend not to 
the outbringing of this effect, he has failed in his 
first step. In the whole composition there should 
be no word written, of which the tendency, direct 
or indirect, is not to the one pre-established 
design. And by such means, with such care and 
skill, a picture is at length painted which leaves 
in the mind of him who contemplates it with a 
kindred art, a sense of the fullest satisfaction. 
The idea of the tale has been presented un 
blemished, because undisturbed. ..." 

Poe has been discussing the length of com 
positions, and goes on to say that this perfection 
is unattainable in the novel, because the novel is 
too long to be read with sustained attention at a 
sitting. That question need not trouble us here. 
We have only to notice that Poe s curse, leading 
him not only to do things but to find out how 
they are done, showed him that his care in writing 
and re-writing was precisely the avoidance of 
hindrance and contradiction, the tuning of the 
part with the whole, that I have already tried 
to describe, The initial inspiration is to rule, 
how absolutely this second paragraph from The 
Philosophy of Composition, published in 1846, 
informs us. There is a cheerful arrogance about 

7? 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

this paragraph that it is hard riot to respect. Poe, 
conscious of his own consciousness, is a little 
drunk with free-will; and the result is the 
momentary vision of a calm-browed person 
sitting between earth and heaven weighing and 
choosing with mathematical precision invisible 
and imponderable things. 

" I prefer commencing with the consideration 
of an effect. Keeping originality always in view 
for he is false to himself who ventures to 
dispense with so obvious and so easily attainable 
a source of interest I say to myself, in the first 
place Of the innumerable effects, or impres 
sions, of which the heart, the intellect, or (more 
generally) the soul is susceptible, what one shall 
I, on the present occasion, select ? Having 
chosen a novel, first, and secondly a vivid effect, 
I consider whether it can be best wrought by 
incident or tone whether by ordinary incidents 
and peculiar tone, or the converse, or by peculi 
arity both of incident and tone afterward 
looking about me (or rather within) for such 
combinations of event, or tone, as shall best aid 
me in the construction of the effect." 

This means that when the illusion of choice 
had left Poe with the nucleus for a tale or poem, 
he followed it with careful observation instead of 
dragging inspiration bound and captive behind a 
runaway pen. Whereas men not self-conscious 
work blindly, and are themselves surprised by 

78 



SELF-CONSCIOUS TECHNIQUE 

the confused effects they produce, Poe watched 
his inspiration for guidance, and was determined 
that the first shadowing of the effect to be 
" constructed " should rule every touch he laid 
upon his canvas. It is easy to quarrel with the 
violence of his statement, as with Shelley s on 
the other side. But, in reading these paragraphs, 
we should remember not only that Poe is trying 
to carry a point but also that it is hard to make 
new principles clear, even to their discoverer, 
without throwing a limelight upon them that 
makes their shades black, and their whites almost 
too luminous. When Baudelaire writes of him 
self as "un esprit qui regarde comme le plus 
grand honneur du poete d accomplir juste ce 
qu il a projete de faire," we find the same 
thoughts similarly exaggerated, and not until 
nearly fifty years after Poe do we get them 
softened by the gentler light of day, in Pater s 
essay on Style : 

" To give the phrase, the sentence, the struc 
tural member, the entire composition, song, or 
essay, a similar unity with its subject and with 
itself: style is in the right way when it tends 
towards that. All depends upon the original 
unity, the vital wholeness and identity of the 
initiatory apprehension or view." 

It is easy in Poe s best work, for we must 
continually throw aside what was written hur- 

79 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

riedly, for bread, too hurriedly to allow that 
watching of the remembered moment which he 
was one of the first to demand it is easy to 
trace the result of this craftsmanship conscious 
of its aims. His theory brought him as near 
perfection as his nature would permit. His 
stories are the readiest examples. They, the 
best of them, are one with themselves, and (so 
thorough is their domination by the idea) their 
first sentences are ordered by knowledge of 
those which are to be the last. Never, except 
by that misfortune of his, that left him insensi 
tive to the unpleasant qualities of some words 
and phrases which the long habit of the language 
has taught more delicate ears to find discordant, 
does he break for a moment the spell that these 
carefully prepared beginnings throw upon his 
readers. " II accomplit juste ce qu il a projete 
de faire," to adapt Baudelaire s words, and his 
mastery seldom loosens its grasp. In the less 
successful works among those by which he was 
willing to be known, he slackens his grip by 
movements of awkward laughter, hangman s 
jokes, which are painful to those who admire him 
in his strength. But, in the perfect tales, like 
The Masque of the Red Death; Silence : a Fable; 
or The Oval Portrait, there is not a movement 
that does not contribute to the effect of the 
whole. 

80 



SELF-CONSCIOUS TECHNIQUE 

Let me set side by side some of these begin 
nings and endings. The Masque of the Eed 
Death opens thus : 

" The Red Death had long devastated the 
country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, 
or so hideous. Blood was its avatar and its seal 
the redness and the horror of blood. There 
were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then 
profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolu 
tion 

It ends : 

"And now was acknowledged the presence 
of the Red Death. He had come like a thief 
in the night. And one by one dropped the re 
vellers in the blood-bedewed hall of their revel, 
and died, each in the despairing posture of 
his fall. And the life of the ebony clock went 
out with that of the last of the gay. And the 
flames of the tripods expired. And Darkness and 
Decay and the Red Death held illimitable 
dominion over all." 

We are led on through gradually increasing 
disquietude and terror. How menacing is the 
sentence that immediately follows the prelude : 
" But the Prince Prospero was happy and 
dauntless and sagacious." We feel at once that 
the shadow of death is at his elbow. 

Shadow : a Parable strikes at once the knell 
that is to close it : 

81 F 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

" Ye who read are still among the living ; but 
I who write shall have long since gone my way 
into the region of shadows." 

This solemn note is reinforced by another as 
the tale begins : 

" Over some flasks of the red Chian wine, 
within the walls of a noble hall in a dim city 
called Ptolemais, we sat at night, a company of 
seven." 

And finally these two deep monotones bell 
forth together : 

" And the shadow answered, * I am SHADOW, 
and my dwelling is near to the Catacombs of 
Ptolemais, and hard by those dim plains of 
H elusion which border upon the foul Charonian 
canal. And then did we, the seven, start from 
our seats in horror, and stand trembling, and 
shuddering, and aghast : for the tones in the 
voice of the shadow were not the tones of any 
one being, but of a multitude of beings, and 
varying in their cadences from syllable to syllable, 
fell duskily upon our ears in the well-remembered 
and familiar accents of many thousand departed 
friends." 

Silence: a Fable has a similar double 
opening, though here the two notes sound 
together at the beginning and, with wonderful 
effect, are disentangled at the end. 

" Listen to mej said the Demon, as he placed 

82 



SELF-CONSCIOUS TECHNIQUE 

his hand upon my head. The region of which 
I speak is a dreary region in Libya, by the borders 
of the river Zaire. And there is no quiet there, 
nor silence. 

" The waters of the river have a saffron and 
sickly hue ; and they flow not onward to the 
sea, but palpitate forever and forever beneath the 
red eye of the sun with a tumultuous and con 
vulsive motion. For many miles on either side 
of the river s oozy bed is a pale desert of gigantic 
water-lilies. They sigh one unto the other in 
that solitude, and stretch towards the heaven 
their long and ghastly necks, and nod to and 
fro their everlasting heads. And there is an in 
distinct murmur which cometh out from among 
them like the rushing of sub-terrene water. And 
they sigh one unto the other. 

" But there is a boundary to their realm 
the boundary of the dark, horrible, lofty forest. 
There, like the waves about the Hebrides, the 
low underwood is agitated continually. But 
there is no wind throughout the heaven. And 
the tall primeval trees rock eternally hither and 
thither with a crashing and a mighty sound. 
And from their high summits, one by one, drop 
everlasting dews. And at the roots strange 
poisonous flowers lie writhing in perturbed 
slumber. And overhead, with a rustling and 
loud noise, the grey clouds rush westwardly 
forever, until they roll, a cataract, over the fiery 
wall of the horizon. But there is no wind 
throughout the heaven. And by the shores 
of the river Zaire there is neither quiet nor 
silence. 

83 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

It is worth while to notice in this the careful, 
if rather elementary music, and the refrain 
" And there is no quiet there, nor silence " 
repeating itself with gathered emphasis at the 
end of the description, while in the second and 
third paragraphs are internal refrains : in the 
second " They sigh one unto the other " ; and 
in the third " But there is no wind throughout 
the heaven." 

Then, turning to the end, we hear the two 
notes separate. The Demon is finishing his 
tale: 

" * And mine eyes fell upon the countenance 
of the man, and his countenance was wan with 
terror. And, hurriedly, he raised his head from 
his hand, and stood forth upon the rock and 
listened. But there was no voice throughout the 
vast illimitable desert, and the characters upon 
the rock were SILENCE. And the man shud 
dered and turned his face away, and fled afar 
off, in haste, so that I beheld him no more. 



" Now there are fine tales in the volumes of 
the Magi in the iron-bound, melancholy 
volumes of the Magi. Therein, I say, are 
glorious histories of the Heaven, and of the 
Earth, and of the mighty Sea and of the Genii 
that overruled the sea, and the earth, and the 
lofty heaven. There was much lore too in the 

84 



SELF-CONSCIOUS TECHNIQUE 

sayings which were said by the Sibyls ; and holy, 
holy things were heard of old by the dim leaves 
that trembled around Dodona but, as Allah 
liveth, that fable which the Demon told me, as 
he sat by my side in the shadow of the tomb, I 
hold to be the most wonderful of all ! And as 
the Demon made an end of his story, he fell 
back^within the cavity of the tomb and laughed. 
And I could not laugh with the Demon, and he 
cursed me because I could not laugh. And the 
lynx, which dwelleth for ever in the tomb, 
came out therefrom, and lay down at the feet 
of the Demon, and looked at him steadily in the 
face." 

How admirably justified is the introduction 
of the lynx. So true is the note that I should 
not be surprised if nine readers out of ten never 
observe that the existence of the beast has not 
been mentioned before. The whole image is a 
fine example of daring trust in the one infallible 
test, of unity with the original inspiration. 



85 



TALES 



TALES 

IN talking of the material of a work of art, we 
must not forget that we are only speaking in an 
inaccurate way of the personality of the artist. 
It is vain to hope for an understanding of the 
art of pottery frem an analysis of the clay the 
potter uses. It would, however, be instructive 
to note how this and that material influenced 
the shapes that could be turned from it upon his 
wheel. We should find that we were approaching 
a geographical knowledge ; learning that such 
and such districts produce such and such forms of 
pottery, and, conversely, that from a specimen of 
ware we could more or less inexactly guess some of 
the characteristics of the country whence it came. 
A similar knowledge can be won from an exami 
nation of the material of works of art. They 
were built, we can say, from this or that species 
of impressions ; they flowered from this or that 
intellectual subsoil. 

But not all the tales and poems of a man be- 
long truly to his nature. Here and there he has 
gathered a handful of earth from countries not 

89 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

his own, and, in these shallow beds he has growi] 
flowers that spring the quicker for their lack of 
root, and only betray the weakness of their soil 
by dying as they open to the sun. Here our 
criterion must be the works of art rather than 
their material, and we must rely upon our taste 
to distinguish dead flowers from living, native 
intuitions from arbitrary specimens of acclima 
tisation. This is markedly the case with Foe, 
whose will frequently chose an " effect " foreign 
to his genius, and then tried to whip up impres- 
-^ sions to produce it. Again and again in the 
,X stories so inspired we can cjetect moments of 
strange vitality, the lingering looks of the spirit 
toward its own and peculiar province of impres 
sion. 

That province was not the wide and various 
territory of a Balzac, but rather a small grove 
closed in by tall trees, filled always with dusk. 
The ground must be trodden warily for fear of 
open graves. Here and there are fallen tomb 
stones, and, in the twilight, strange flowers rise 
from between them, like those fierce irises whose 
orange fiery tongues creep out on lips veined 
terribly with white and purple. The faces of 
the ghosts that walk here are twisted with pain 
or fear. No priest has exorcised them, and their 
mortal bodies have not had Christian burial. 
From this narrow grove Poe brought the 

90 



TALEiS 

strange tales by which he is most widely remem 
bered, and here his spirit had its home when it 
was not wandering clear-eyed and critical about 
a more ordinary world. When, as Poe would 
have put it, he left his intellect for his soul, he 
found it here, aloof indeed from the arena 
of his purely intellectual activities. Many 
things, however, called him elsewhere, and, in 
the stories that resulted from his wanderings, it 
is interesting to trace those flashes of homesick 
ness in which he remembers himself. 

Poe, the critic, admired the skill of Defoe in 
giving verisimilitude to fiction. We have read 
in the chapter on his criticism the note in 
which he described the effect of Robinson Crusoe. 
He wished to produce such an effect with tales 
of his own writing. The Adventures of Arthur 
Gordon Pym and the Journal of Julius 
Rodman written two years later, represent un 
finished attempts to create new Crusoes. The 
fact that they are without ends is itself sugges 
tive. In reading them it is curious to watch 
Poe s genius escaping from the galley where he 
had bound his cleverness to an oar, and swiftly 
flying to the remembered place of strange dreams 
and sepulchral imaginations. The style of Defoe, 
a paved causeway, swells and heaves, glaucous 
coloured grass springs up through the interstices, 
and flowers like drops of blood, while the plain 

91 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

stones are covered with a variegated fungus. 
Poe begins : 

" My name is Arthur Gordon Pym. My 
father was a respectable trader in sea-stores at 
Nantucket, where I was born. My maternal 
grandfather was an attorney in good practice. . . ." 

and, parodying not too accurately the style of 
Robinson, goes on with accounts of shipwreck 
and mutiny and voyages to undiscovered lands. 
But presently the style changes. A ship like 
The Flying Dutchman sails by and disappears. 
Saffron-coloured corpses lie upon her decks and 
lean upon her bulwarks, and, as she passes, a 
huge sea-gull, spattered with blood, draws its 
beak and talons from the body where it feasts, 
and, flyjng over the heads of Pym and his com 
panion, drops at their feet "a piece of clotted 
and liver-like substance." After which Poe 
turns again to his longitudes and latitudes, 
succeeding very fairly well in making the veri 
similitude he desired. But, by the time the 
book breaks off, Pym s adventures are tuned to 
a pitch beyond credibility. Pym and his com 
panion in a small boat sail, under clouds of white 
ashes, over a milky ocean, too hot to be endured 
by the naked hand, towards a silent cataract that 
curtains the horizon. 

"At intervals there were visible in it wide, 

92 



TALES 

yawning, but momentary rents, and from out 
these rents, within which was a chaos of flitting 
and indistinct images, there came rushing and 
mighty but soundless winds, tearing up the en 
kindled ocean in their course. . . . And now we 
rushed into the embraces of the cataract, where 
a chasm threw itself open to receive us. But 
there arose in our pathway a shrouded human 
figure, very far larger in its proportions than 
any dweller among men. And the hue of the 
skin of the figure was of the perfect whiteness 
of the snow." 

It was almost inevitable that Pym should die 
and his manuscript be lost, for a reconciliation 
between Defoe and his imitator was no longer 
possible. 

The Journal of Julius Rodman is more con 
sistent in tone. It purports to be the revised 
notes of the first man who crossed the Rocky 
Mountains. There are in it encounters with 
Indians, described like those of Robinson with 
his savages, and it breaks off after a battle with 
a couple of bears chronicled more seriously than 
the piece of sport shown by Man Friday with his 
grizzly. Poe loads his narrative with detailed 
catalogues of food and arms in the approved 
i manner, but gave himself a narrow safety-valve 
by making Rodman sensitive to nature and an 
exuberant describer of landscape, which, in 
Defoe s time, had not yet begun to exist, except 

93 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

as something difficult or easy to traverse. Poe s 
intention is shown in such sentences as this : 

" My father had been very fond of Pierre, and 
I thought a great deal of him myself; he was 
a great favourite, too, with my younger sister, 
Jane, and I believe they would have been 
married had it been God s will to have spared 
her." 

The fact that it was foreign to his nature is 
betrayed in such as this : 

" The two rivers presented the most enchanting 
appearance as they wound away their long snake- 
like lengths in the distance, growing thinner and 
thinner until they looked like mere faint threads 
of silver as they vanished in the shadowy mists 
of the sky." 

I find a very characteristic sign of the intel 
lectual character of Poe s invention in his 
description of Rodman s appearance : 

" He was about twenty-five years of age, when 
he started up the river. He was a remarkably 
vigorous and active man, but short in stature, 
not being more than five feet three or four inches 
high strongly built, with legs somewhat bowed. 
His physiognomy was of a Jewish cast, his lips 
thin, and his complexion saturnine." 

Rodman s task was to take his men over the 
Rocky Mountains, as Hannibal had led his Car- 

94 



TALES 

thaginians over the Alps. He had to be a 
leader. Few but Poe would have thought of 
sketching him in the lines of the popular imagi 
nation of Napoleon Bonaparte. 

Poe s attempts at verisimilitude contain occa 
sional flashes of himself. He appears more 
rarely in those tales in which, instead of aping an 
eighteenth- century Defoe, he masquerades as a 
nineteenth- century humorist. His conception 
of humour was not elementary. There is no 
round Rabelaisian laughter in him at the con 
trast between man the animal and man the God. 
Nor does he, with Shakespeare, see big, boy-like 
men playing like children in a serious world, or 
taking a laughable one with gravity. There is 
no fat or juice in Poe s amusement. His sense 
of the ridiculous is lean and pinched, and moves; 
pity rather than laughter in his readers. It is: 
the humour of a hungry man who is a little 
angry. He laughs in a falsetto and the world 
will not join in the chorus. Some schoolmasters 
make jokes like his, jokes that to their pupils do 
but deepen the monotony they are intended to 
relieve. When, in a tragic story, Poe introduces 
a scrap of would-be ridicule, we have to pass it 
j over with forgiveness instead of relishing it like 
the humour in Shakespeare s solemn plays. It 
does not fill out his conception to the broad pro 
portions of humanity, but is a blemish upon it, 

95 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

an excrescence that we would be glad to do with 
out. And when, in his mad confidence that the 
discrepancies he saw were as amusing to others 
as to his own serious mind, he wrote whole tales 
.of nothing else, he found that the laughter 
/evaporated as he wrote, and that he had to over- 
emphasise all his points to get any effect at all. 
Small things amuse big minds of a peculiar 
species. I believe Poe often laughed at the gro 
tesque ideas and bad puns that he, or any one 
else, could easily invent. I believe he was really 
amused by the long-drawn-out witticisms that 
seem to us so dull. I cannot otherwise under 
stand how he could print them not only in 
magazines that paid for them, but also in books 
that did not and were not likely to bring him 
any money. His case suggests that it might be 
possible to reason that humorists are men with 
a sluggish sense of humour. The incidents or 
ideas that make them laugh are laughable indeed, 
whereas the thinnest little ghost of a pale joke 
will shake the sides of those who, like Poe, are 
unable to compel others to share their enjoy 
ment. Perhaps, instead of saying of some 
ridiculous occurrence that it would make a cat 
laugh, we should be more truly praising it in 
exclaiming that it would make Charles Dickens 
smile. It might be possible to argue so. Who 
but one with very active muscles of laughter 

96 



TALES 

could smile, unless with sorrow, at the Court 
Guide in King Pest ? 

" The other exalted personages whom you be 
hold are all of our family, and wear the insignia 
of the blood royal under the respective titles of 
His Grace the Arch- Duke Pest-Iferous, His 
Grace the Duke Pest-Ilential, < His Grace the 
Duke Tern- Pest, and Her Serene Highness the 
Arch-Duchess Ana-Pest." 

We have been spoiled by the great masters of 
humour, and our pampered minds can find 
nothing funny in such simple jests as these. Yet 
Poe filled a volume with such stuff. Sir Path- 
rick O Grandison Barranitt tells, in the style of 
Charles O Malley, of an incident in his rivalry 
with a little Frenchman, and we remain hope 
lessly solemn. The Angel of the Odd talks like 
Hans Breitmann, and we do not smile. The 
printer s devil substitutes " x s " for " o s " in a 
paragraph, and when he tells us that it made some 
body "x(cross) in the x-treme," we are more 
sad than merry. 

Yet, even in these tales of dead laughter and 
demands for smiles that do not come, Poe some 
times touches his own note, and the withered 
second-rate jester suddenly rises in stature, and 
the empty wrinkles round his eyes disappear into 
cavernous and impressive hollows. Even in 
King Pest, with its annoying verbal witticisms, 

97 G 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

is a paragraph in which Poe comes to his 
own: 

" Had they not, indeed, been intoxicated be 
yond moral sense, their reeling footsteps must 
have been palsied by the horrors of their situa 
tion. The air was cold and misty. The paving- 
stones, loosened from their beds, lay in wild con 
fusion amid the tall rank grass which sprang up 
around the feet and ankles. Fallen houses 
choked up the streets. The most fetid and 
poisonous smells everywhere prevailed ; and by 
the aid of that ghastly light which, even at mid 
night, never fails to emanate from a vapoury and 
pestilential atmosphere, might be discerned lying 
in the by-paths and alleys, or rotting in the 
windowless habitations, the carcase of many a 
nocturnal plunderer arrested by the hand of the 
plague in the very perpetration of his robbery." 

Poe seems to have been unable to leave his 
admirations to themselves. He was always 
tempted to turn them into emulations, and it 
was almost always through some delight of his 
critical mind that he was led to the attempting 
of tasks foreign to his genius. Just as his under 
standing of the excellence of Defoe made him 
eager to imitate the master whose secret he per 
ceived, so his pleasure in the discoveries of science, 
the pleasure of the amateur, of the uninitiated, 
made him desirous of using it in his own way, 
and, as an artist, of carrying further the marvels 

98 



TALES 

whose existence- had been proved by the pro 
fessors. Critic and metaphysician as he was, I 
think that at some moments of his career he 
would readily have flung away these titles, like 
those of poet and storyteller, if he could have 
been given instead of them the name of ajscien- 
tific discoverer. There are many indications in 
hljTscientific tales that he plumes himself as much 
on his knowledge and conjecture as on the tales 
in which they are turned to account. He learnt 
what science he knew from popular works, but 
was certainly able, on these not very deep foun 
dations, to raise quite ingenious edifices of specu 
lation. In Hans Pfaall, for example, he 
anticipates Jules Verne, and describes a voyage 
to the moon, whose plausibility, however, is a 
little lessened by the tone of banter in which 
parts of the story are told. He lets us see too 
clearly that he is laughing in his sleeve, and at 
the same time is very careful in securing veri 
similitude, and apparent submission to the laws 
of science. He does not allow Hans Pfaall to fly 
to the moon, in the free and easy manner of the 
hero of Cyrano de Bergerac s Voyage auoc Etats 
de la Lune, for his interest is more in the flight 
than in what is to be found on alighting, which, 
in fact, never gets described. Poe busies himself 
in contriving an oxygen-making apparatus for 
turning a rarefied atmosphere into fit stuff for 

99 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

breathing. He makes calculations of weights 
and distances, and finds pleasure in such logical 
invention as sees that the balloon turns round 
and descends bottom downwards to the moon, 
after passing the point at which the lunar attrac 
tion exceeds that of the earth. If such a voyage 
had been made, Foe would have been eager to 
point out that he had foreseen its possibility, and 
forecast its method. In another story he describes 
the crossing of the Atlantic by airship. This was 
printed as truth in the columns of a newspaper, 
and did indeed deceive many. Here, too, he is 
happy with calculations and deductions, and the 
same kind of logical invention as pleased him in 
Hans Pfaall. Of these tales the most consistent 
in tone is The Descent into the Maelstrom, which, 
although, like The Pit and the Pendulum, 
empty of spiritual significance, yet makes an 
effect tuned more closely with his mind. The 
measured description of the whirlpool fitly 
prepares the reader for the narrative of the man 
who has been sucked into its depths, and we are 
grateful to Poe for his ingenious piece of reason 
ing about the respective resistance offered by 
cylinders and other bodies swimming in a vortex, 
that, at the last moment, is sufficient to save the 
unfortunate, whose hope and despair we have 
already made our own. 

Among these scientific dreams and imaginative 
100 



TALES 



projections of scientific into pictorial and concrete 
fact are two stories in which Foe s peculiar 
powers are more easily detected. These are : 
The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar and 
Mesmeric Revelation. Both are tales -of men 
preserved beyond death by mesmerism, and 
talking, as it were, from the farther side of the 
gulf. Both were written in later years, and are 
examples of the work of the metaphysician whose 
work we shall discuss in a later chapter. The 
first is the more physical of the two studies. 
Valdemar is mesmerised when on ,the point of 
death, and, from a mesmeric trance, signifies to 
the operator the stages of his sinking and the 
moment of his actual dissolution. For seven 
months he is preserved under the mesmeric in 
fluence, while his body does not decay, and all 
physical processes are seemingly arrested. At 
the end of that time he is awakened by the 
customary passes. He cries out to be put once 
more to sleep or to be finally awakened. The 
operator tries to mesmerise him again, but, 
failing through lack of will power, works earnestly 
for the removal of the spell. 

" As I rapidly made the mesmeric passes, amid 
ejaculations of dead ! dead ! absolutely bursting 
from the tongue and not from the lips of the 
sufferer, his whole frame at once within the 
space of a single minute, or even less shrunk, 

101 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

crumbled absolutely rotted away beneath my 
hands. Upon the bed, before that whole company, 
there lay a nearly liquid mass of loathsome of 
detestable putridity." 

Mesmeric Revelation reports a conversation 
between the mesmerist and his patient, a philoso 
pher who believes that from his self- cognisance in 
the mesmeric state may be learnt some truth that, 
in an ordinary condition, his powers of reasoning 
would not be so acute as to discover. A series 
of questions bring as answers some of the ideas 
that were already shaping Poe s Eureka, and the 
tale ends with the philosopher s death. 

" As the sleep-walker pronounced these latter 
words, in a feeble tone, I observed in his coun 
tenance a singular expression, which somewhat 
alarmed me and induced me to wake him at once. 
No sooner had I done this than, with a bright 
smile irradiating all his features, he fell back 
upon his pillow and expired. 1 noticed that in 
less than a minute afterward his corpse had all 
the stern rigidity of stone. His brow was of the 
coldness of ice. Thus, ordinarily, should it have 
appeared only after long pressure from AzraeFs 
hand. Had the sleep-walker, indeed, during the 
latter portion of his discourse, been addressing 
me from out the region of the shadows ? " 



It is clear in all these stories, less expressions 
than attempts at expression, how much of Poe s 

102 



TALES 

work as an artist was merely illustrative of his 
adventures as a critic and thinker. In the last 
two are indications of what came to be the pre 
vailing character of his thought, indications which 
are elsewhere again and again confirmed. When 
Poe was not thinking of beauty he was thmking 
of God, and so of death ; and much of his thought 
on God and beauty came to be associated with 
death when he allowed it to appear in work whose 
aim was aesthetic rather than scientific. The 
confusion in his mind between beauty and melan 
choly, death being taken as its symbol, caused 
one of the flaws in his theory of aesthetic, one of 
the brambles that entangled his pursuit of truth. 
There are tears of beauty and tears of sorrow, 
and Poe did not distinguish between them. 
Artists have not yet got so far as thinkers in 
freeing their souls from fettering catalogues of 
the things they admire, which they confound 
with the beautiful. They will still give lists of 
beautiful things, betraying rather the colours of 
their temperaments than the acuteness of their 
understandings. Different men are moved to 
aesthetic expression by different things ; it is 
hard for them to realise that beauty is not 
exclusively the possession of the things that 
make expression, and so beauty, possible to 
themselves. Poe passes very near the truth in 
saying : 

103 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

" When indeed men speak of Beauty, they 
mean precisely not a quality, as is supposed, but 
an effect ; they refer, in short, just to that intense 
and pure elevation of soul not of intellect or of 
heart upon which I have commented, and which 
is experienced in consequence of contemplating 
the beautiful." 

There is a taper of illumination in that sen 
tence. It flickers when he writes : 

" Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme 
development, invariably excites the sensitive soul 
to tears. Melancholy then is the most legitimate 
of all the poetical tones." 

It dies absolutely when he continues : 

" Now, never losing sight of the object, 
supremeness, "or perfection, at all points, I asked 
myself, Of all melancholy topics, what, accord 
ing to the universal understanding of mankind, 
is the most melancholy ? Death, was the 
obvious reply. And when, I said, is this most 
melancholy of topics most poetical ? From 
what I have already explained at some length, 
the answer here also is obvious 6 When it most 
closely allies itself to Beauty." The death, then, 
of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the 
most poetical topic in the world and equally 
is it beyond doubt that the lips best suited for 
such a topic are those of a bereaved lover." 

There the light is dead, and Poe only tells 
us that he is a melancholy man who is easiest 

104 



TALES 

prompted to aesthetic expression by the emotions 
belonging to death and bereavement. 

Robert Burton, in the Anatomy of Melan 
choly, writes of Phantasie or Imagination, 
"whose organ is the middle cell of the brain," 
that, "in melancholy men this faculty is most 
powerful and strong, and often hurts, producing 
many monstrous and prodigious things, especially 
if it be stirred up by some terrible object pre 
sented to it from common sense or memory." 
Monstrous and prodigious things did this man 
produce, whose brain sought a white light and a 
rarefied air in which to think, while his tempera 
ment dragged it back continually to graveyard 
mists and that grove of purple, poisonous flowers. 
Setting on one side the analytical tales, which 
are a subject for separate discussion, we may 
note that almost all the best of his remaining 
stories, in which his inspiration is not turned to 
invention by the arbitrary interference and in 
tention of his will, are concerned directly or 
indirectly with the idea of death. They are 
variations on a Funeral March, played now 
almost silently with muffled notes, now with 
reverberating thunder, now in a capricious stac 
cato, now with the jangling of madness, the 
notes tripping each other up as they rush 
along, and now so slowly that the breath of his 
listeners waits for suffocation in their throats in 

105 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

expectation of the phrases that are continually 
postponed. 

But death is the catastrophe of many stories 
beside Poe s. It is a bulky incident in life, and 
consequently one that readily offers itself for the 
purposes of art. Poe, however, was peculiar in 
his use of it. He does not watch a death-bed 
and make notes of the humanity of the patient. 
He does not make us feel the painful emotions 
of the men and women who see their friend 
irrevocably departing from them. There is no 
irony, no sadness, no setting of familiar things in 
the light that in death s presence seems to pierce 
the curtain that divides those who have gone 
from those who, busying themselves with irrele 
vant things, are waiting to go in their turn. 
Most writers seek in death an enhancement of 
the value of life, and find in mortality a means of 
elucidating humanity. Death with them is a 
significant moment of life. Death with Poe is 
Death. The metaphysician is obsessed by it as 
the point where simple calculations slip through 
into the fourth dimension. The artist is con- / 
cerned with death as something separate from 
life, something whose circumstances are special 
and terrible. 

It has been said that the horror of Poe s tales 
of death is purely physical. A quality more 
universally theirs is that of peculiarity of circum- 

106 



TALES 

stance. The people who die, or have killed, or 
are about to die, are unusual, and the manners 
of the deaths, or the condition of mind in which 
they are prepared for them, are extraordinary. 
In some cases the death is no physical death, but 
v the murder of half a soul by its fellow, as in the 
tale of William Wilson. In others the deaths 
are those of reincarnated spirits (Morella) of 
madmen (the murderers of The Tell- Tale Heart 
and The Black Cat] or of souls whose bodies 
are snatched in the moment of dissolution by 
spirits who have already left the earth (Ligeia). 
Brooding over the idea of death, Poe found his 
way into other corners of speculation, and the 
mere fact of dying became clothed for him with 
the strangely coloured garments of the weird. 

He plays none of the witch melody that 
Hawthorne knows. Poe is interested in the 
conscience, but does not make of it and the faith 
that it sometimes implies a background to throw 
up into relief the figures that dance to his music. 
No penalties to be enacted in another world 
heighten the importance of deeds done in this. 
He is not, except as a metaphysician, concerned 
with the soul after death, but only tunes its 
progress to the grave. His fingers will lift no 
trumpet on the day of a judgment in which he 
does not believe. His interest as a story-teller is 
with the terrors of the soul before yet it has 

107 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

separated from the body. x Let it wake in the 
coffin and beat with the fingers that are still its 
own upon the weighted lid. Poe will be with it 
in its agony. Hawthorne, thinking of Heaven 
and Hell, forgets the worms. Poe hears them 
eating through the rotten wood. 

But though death is the motive that runs 
through them, Poe s best stories are not concerned 
only with mortality. He parades his corpses in 
the dim neutral country between ordinary life 
and the life that remains uncharted and scarcely 
explored. We have to remember in reading 
him that the geography of humanity changes 
from age to age, and that when, in his tales of 
mesmerism, for example, he seems to be moving 
in districts now open to the public, those districts 
when he wrote were no less shadowy than the 
world beyond the horizon to the dwellers in the 
caves. In William Wilson he is using, long 
before Stevenson, the idea of dual personality. 
In The Oval Portrait, where a painter transfers 
the very soul of his lady to the canvas, and, as 
the portrait seems to breathe alive, turns round 
to find her dead, he is using the subtle, half- 
thought things that an earlier writer would 
scarcely have felt, or, if he had, would have 
brushed like cobwebs secretly aside. Then there 
is the Germanesque story of the horse whose soul 
is a man and carries that man s enemy headlong 

108 



TALES 

into a flaming castle. The Assignation is an 
objective piece of colour. The Black Cat and 
The Tell-Tale Heart are stories of murder 
and its discovery, threaded with hitherto un- 
imagined varieties of madness. The note common| 
to all is that of the weird, and Poe keeps warib 
along the narrow strip of country that is neith( 
frankly supernatural, nor yet prosaic enough tv y 
be commonplace. 

The effect of the weird is not very old in story 
telling, though the terrible and the monstrous 
have long been motives of narrative. Its appear 
ance is almost synchronous with the eighteenth- 
century birth of the Romantic movement. Its 
first thrill has been traced to a passage in one 
of Smollett s novels. It does not necessarily use 
the supernatural, although it perhaps implies an 
appeal to those half-forgotten states of mind 
that would once have so considered the details 
that stimulate it. It is possible that for the 
weird, as for many other romantic effects, like 
those of the clash of sword and of the hunting of 
beasts, our ancestors thrill within us, and com 
municate their shudders to ourselves. It is worth 
while, in thinking of Poe s use of it, to consider 
its short history in art. Our attitude towards the 
weird or the fantastic, with which it is closely 
allied, defined itself with some rapidity. Mrs. 
Radcliffe, when she secured a weird effect by the 

109 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

lighting of blue flames on the points of the 
soldiers lances before the Castle of Udolpho, was 
careful to write in a footnote : " See the Abbe 
Berthelon on Electricity." Miracles were already 
powerless before the Royal Society, and whereas, 
not half a century before, Horace Walpole had 
lifted his giant warrior to heaven in a clap of 
thunder, a writer in the later day would have 
been careful to show the wires and pulleys that 
hoisted the monster to the skies. Mrs. Radcliffe, 
eager to serve two gods, gave us our thrill 
and our electricity together. Her fictions, clever 
as they are, are a little laughable on that account, 
and when Poe executes a marvel and explains it, 
as in Thou art the Man! he drops his story 
into a class below that of his best work. But 
with the later Romantics came a clearer under 
standing. Theophile Gautier, in an essay on 
Hoffmann, says, in praising him : 

" Besides, Hoffmann s marvellous is not the 
marvellous of the fairy tales : he has always one 
foot in the real world, and one does not see 
much in him of carbuncle palaces with diamond 
turrets. The talismans and wonders of The 
Arabian Nights are of no use to him. Occult 
sympathies and dislikes, peculiar manias, visions, 
magnetism, the mysterious and malevolent in 
fluence of an evil principle that he only vaguely 
suggests, these are the supernatural and extra 
ordinary elements that Hoffmann is accustomed 

110 



TALES 

to use. This is the positive and the plausible of 
the fantastic." 

He might almost be writing of Poe. Even so, 
he does not dig at the root of the question, but 
only at the loose soil about its trunk. For there 
is no untruth in fairy tale so long as we can be 
made to believe in it and do not require to have 
it reduced to terms of the Abbe Berthelon. It 
was left to another Romantic to make a philo 
sophical statement of the difficulty. We re 
member with Teufelsdrockh : 

" The potency of Names ; which indeed are 
but one kind of such Custom-woven, wonder- 
hiding Garments. Witchcraft, and all manner 
of Spectre- work and Demonology, we have 
now named Madness and Diseases of the 
Nerves. Seldom reflecting that still the new 
question comes upon us : What is Madness, 
what are Nerves ? Ever, as before, does Madness 
remain a mysterious-terrific altogether infernal 
boiling up of the Nether Chaotic Deep, through 
this fair- painted Vision of Creation which swims 
thereon, which we name the Real. Was 
Luther s picture of the Devil less a Reality, 
whether it were framed within the bodily eye, or 
without it? In every the wisest Soul lies a 
whole world of internal Madness, an authentic 
Demon-Empire ; out of which, indeed, his world 
of Wisdom has been creatively built together, 
and now rests there, as on its dark foundations 
does a habitable flowery Earth rind." 

Ill 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

Truth is so variable except in its relation to 
the soul. The facts of physical science turn into 
butterflies and elude us as we grasp them. The 
Demon-Empire is all-powerful as soon as we 
believe in it, and to do that we must be moved 
by one who has been himself under its sway. 
The priests of the weird do not enjoy the even 
life of other men. A few, like Gautier, have 
visited the temple sometimes, and escaped before 
its curse has fallen on them. But Gerard de 
Nerval hanged himself with a bootlace, that 
may have been the Queen of Sheba s garter, to a 
lodging-house door in a back street of a Paris 
that may have been Baghdad. Hoffmann lay in 
bed petrifying from his feet up in expiation of 
those nights in the tavern where, in the fumes of 
beer and smoke, he saw Krespel dancing with the 
crape in his hat, and the floating shadows of 
Callot s grotesques, that seemed inextricably 
related to his own. Poe s death, as wretched as 
either of these, has already been described. 
They are men who have submitted to " les Bien- 
faits de la Lune." The weird is that strange 
child to whom Baudelaire overheard the Moon 
speaking : 

" Tu seras la reine des hommes aux yeux verts 
dont j ai serre aussi la gorge dans mes caresses 
nocturnes ; de ceux-la qui aiment la mer, la mer 
immense, tumultueuse et verte, 1 eau informe et 

112 



TALES 

multiforme, le lieu ou ils ne sont pas, la femme 
qu ils ne connaissent pas, les fleurs sinistres qui 
ressemblent aux encensoirs d une religion incon- 
nue, les parfums qui troublent la volonte, et les 
animaux sauvages et voluptueux qui sont les 
emblemes de leur folie." 

Poe was one of these, and that fact is the 
secret of his power. He would reverse Gautier s 
confession, and write it : "I love a phantom 
better than a statue, and twilight better than full 
noon." (For him "the invisible world existed," 
and his excursions on the common earth were 
less personal to himself, and less real than his V 
travels in that other country that is and is not, 
like a landscape in a dream, and is and is not 
again. His stories leave us richer not in facts 
but in emotions. We find our way with their v^ 
help into novel corners of sensation. They are 
like rare coloured goblets or fantastic metal- 
work, and we find, often with surprise, that we 
have waited for them. That is their vindication, 
that the test between the valueless and the 
invaluable of the fantastic. There are tales of 
twisted extravagance that stir us with no more 
emotion than is given by an accidental or cap 
ricious decoration, never felt or formed in the 
depths of a man. There are others whose ex 
travagance is arbitrary, ingenious and incredible 
because explained. But the best of Poe s tales, 

113 H 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

like those patterns however grotesque that have 
once meant the world to a mind sensible to 
beauty, have a more than momentary import. 
Like old melody, like elaborate and beautiful 
dancing, like artificial light, like the sight of 
poison or any other concentrated power, they 
are among the significant experiences that are 
open to humanity. 



114 



POETRY 



POETRY 

POETRY for Poe was " a passion rather than a 
purpose," and he thought about it considerably 
more often than he practised it. Certain of his 
theories, that limited its scope to a particular 
vein of material, prevented him from playing with 
it the tricks that he played with his other art of 
narrative. He did not drag it, as he dragged his 
story-telling, in pursuit of his critical admirations. 
He did not expect it, as he expected his story 
telling, to turn, like a chameleon, the colour of 
whatever mood he laid it on. Limiting it to the 
expression of a single aspect of himself, he was 
content to wait for the moments when that 
aspect was his, and, when they did not come, 
to do no more than to revise what he had 
already written. Consequently, his poetry, in 
spite of his preference for it, bults little in his 
work, and is almost overshadowed by the volume 
of his poetical theory. 

I shall try, as far as possible by means of 
direct quotation, to outline that theory s more 
important points. 

117 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

We have already observed, in a brief note on 
his criticism, that Poe protested against the 
error of supposing didacticism to be a motive 
of poetry. He speaks in The Poetic Principle 
of "a heresy too palpably false to be long 
tolerated, but one which, in the brief period it 
has already endured, may be said to have 
accomplished more in the corruption of our 
Poetical Literature than all its other elements 
combined." 

" I allude to the heresy of Tlie Didactic. It 
has been assumed, tacitly and avowedly, directly 
and indirectly, that the ultimate object of all 
Poetry is Truth. Every poem, it is said, should 
inculcate a moral ; and by this moral is the 
poetical merit of the work to be adjudged. 
We Americans, especially, have patronised this 
happy idea ; and we Bostonians, very especially, 
have developed it in full. We have taken it 
into our heads that to write a poem simply for 
the poem s sake, and to acknowledge such to 
have"b^etr~OTir design, would be to confess our 
selves radically wanting in the true Poetic 
Dignity and Force ; but the simple fact is, that, 
would we but permit ourselves to look into our 
own souls, we should immediately there discover 
that under the sun there exists nor can exist any 
work more thoroughly dignified, more supremely 
noble, than this very poem this poem per se 
this poem which is a poem and nothing more 
this poem written solely for the poem s sake." 

118 



POETRY 

The Poetic Principle was published in 1850, 
after Poe s death. Eight years earlier, in a review 
of Longfellow s ballads, he had very ingeniously 
suggested how didacticism, once an accidental 
undercurrent, had come to be considered essential 
to poetry. 

" Mankind have seemed to define Poesy in a 
thousand, and in a thousand conflicting, defini 
tions. But the war is only one of words. In 
duction is as well applicable to this subject as to 
the most palpable and utilitarian ; and by its 
sober processes we find that, in respect to com 
positions which have been really received as 
poems, the imaginative, or, more popularly, the 
creative portions alone have insured them to be 
so received. Yet these works, on account of 
these portions, having once been so received and 
so named, it has happened, naturally and inevit 
ably, that other portions totally unpoetic have 
not only come to be regarded by the popular 
voice as poetic, but have been made to serve as 
false standards of perfection, in the adjustment of 
other poetical claims. Whatever has been found 
in whatever has been received as a poem has 
been blindly regarded as ex statu poetic. And 
this is a species of gross error which scarcely 
could have made its way into any less intangible 
topic. In fact, that licence, which appertains to 
the Muse herself, it has been thought decorous, 
if not sagacious, to indulge, in all examinations 
of her character." 

When he wrote that he had not yet written 
119 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

the most valuable sentence \i\f Eureka : " A 
perfect consistency is no other than an absolute 
truth." He perceived only that poetry had 
nothing to do with the truth of novelists and 
teachers. The., "ficst, ^element " of poetry was 
" Jhe thirst for supernal beauty a beauty which 
is not afforded the soul by any existing colloca 
tion of the earth s forms a beauty which, 
perhaps, no possible combination of those forms 
would fully produce." Those two negations 
show that he was on the way to discovery, but 
he had not yet seen that this beauty was itself 
the quality of a kind of truth, the truth of art, 
" an absolute truth " when " a perfect consist 
ency." He had not yet distinguished between 
the truth of morals and the truth of art. 
Supernal beauty had not yet been recognised 
by him as the invariable companion of the only 
truth that is above argument. Yet, working in 
the dark, his face was in the right direction, and 
his eyes were keen. He did not, as a lesser and 
more headlong thinker would have done, reject 
moral truth altogether, but generously allowed 
it its humble place in poetry, its importance as 
of a colour or a note of music with a higher end 
to serve. Benedetto Croce goes no further. 

In The Poetic Principle, which, published in 
1850, is a lecture, and so in its final form probably 
represents his ideas very shortly before his death, 

120 



POETRY 

he still does not follow the line of thought which 
Eureka had thrown open. He is more polite to 
the truth of logic (in issuing that book he had 
openly set up as a thinker) but he does not call 
poetry by any name that would show he had 
seen the trend of his own thinking, and recognised 
poetry as truth of a different kind. 

" With as deep a reverence for the True as 
ever inspired the bosom of man, I would, never 
theless, limit in some measure its modes of 
inculcation. I would limit to enforce them. I 
would not enfeeble them by dissipation. The 
demands of Truth are severe ; she has no sym 
pathy with the myrtles. All that which is so 
indispensable in Song, is precisely all that with 
which she has nothing to do. It is but making 
her a flaunting paradox to wreathe her in gems 
and flowers. In enforcing a truth we need 
severity rather than efflorescence of language. 
We must be simple, precise, terse. We must be 
cool, calm, unimpassioned. In a wt>rd, we must 
be in that mood, which, as nearly as possible, is 
the exact converse of the. poetical. He must be 
blind indeed who does not perceive the radical 
and chasmal differences between the truthful and 
the poetical modes of inculcation. He must be 
theory-mad beyond redemption who, in spite of 
these differences, shall still persist in attempting 
to reconcile the obstinate oils and waters of 
Poetry and Truth." 

This would seem final. I shall run the risk of 
121 






EDGAR AL LAN POE 

being myself considered theory-mad, if I point out 
that he protests against the attempted reconcilia 
tion not of poetry and truth, but of lyrical and 
logical truth, of the concrete and the abstract, 
or, as Croce puts it, of intuition and conception. 
He sums up the result of his thinking in these 
two paragraphs : 

" To recapitulate, then : I would define, in 
brief, the Poetry gf. words as The Rhythmical 
Creation of Beauty. Its sole arbiter is Taste. 
With the Intellect or with the Conscience, it 
has only collateral relations. Unless incidentally, 
it has no concern whatever either with Duty or 
with Truth. 

" A few words, however, in explanation. v That 
pleasure which is at once the most pure, the 
most elevating, and the most intense, is derived, 
I maintain, from the contemplation of the 
Beautiful. In the ^oM^mglS^n^nS^it^we^ 
alone find it possible to attain _Uiat pleasurable 
elevation, or excitement, of the so^/3 which we 
recognise as the Poetic Sentiment, and which is 
so easily distinguished from Truth, which is the 
satisfaction of the Reason, or from Passion, 
which is the excitement of the Heart. I make 
Beauty, therefore using the word as inclusive 
of the sublime I make Beauty the province of 
the poem, simply because it is an obvious rule of 
Art that effects should be made to spring as 
directly as possible from their causes no one as 
yet having been weak enough to deny that the 
peculiar elevation in question is at least most 

122 



POETRY 

readily attainable in the poem. It by no means 
follows, however, that the incitements of Passion, 
or the precepts of Duty, or even the lessons of 
Truth, may not be introduced into a poem, and 
with advantage ; for they may subserve, incident 
ally, in various ways, the general purposes of the 
work ; but the true artist will always contrive to 
tone them down in proper subjection to that 
Beauty which is the atmosphere and the real 
essence of the poem." 

Bold utterance, this, in the America of Lowell, 
Longfellow, and Emerson. 

Poe s theories, however, did not stop at a 
definition of poetry. Spending much of his time 
in reviewing bad poets, and learning continually 
from his own work in prose, he busied himself in 
many considerations of craftsmanship. Baude 
laire calls him " un poete qui pretend que son 
poeme a ete compose d apres son podtique." 
His poetique was sufficiently detailed. It was 
no collection of vague theories, but had a practical 
influence on what he did. That one of his beliefs 
that has been most discussed is concerned with 
length. He held that a long poem does not 
exist, and that books of this appearance are 
really collections of independent lyrics. He 
supported this theorem in an ingenious and 
irrefutable manner. He writes in one of the 
Marginalia : "... to appreciate thoroughly the 
work of what we call genius is to possess all the 

123 



EDGAR ALLAN FOE 

genius by which the work was produced." Now 
that is a separation of the work of art from 
the painted canvas or the printed book, similar 
to that accomplished by Benedetto Croce, in 
his Theory of ^Esthetic. It perceives that the 
work of art has^a mental rather than a physical 
existence, and that the canvas or the book 
are only the stimuli that make possible its con 
tinual renaissance. The picture or poem is a 
collaboration between artist and student, and 
exists only so long as this collaboration lasts. 
With this clearly understood, he writes in The 
Poetic Principle : 

" I need scarcely observe that a poem deserves 
its title only inasmuch as it excites, by elevating 
I he soul. The value ol* the poem is in the ratio 
of this elevating excitement. Slut all excite 
ments are, through a psychal necessity, transient. 
That degree of excitement which would entitle a 
poem to be so called at all cannot be sustained 
throughout a composition of any great length. 
After the lapse of half an hour, at the very 
utmost, it flags fails a revulsion ensues and 
then the poem is, in effect, and in fact, no longer 
such." 

He continues : 

" There are, no doubt, many who have found 
difficulty in reconciling the critical dictum that the 
Paradise Lost is to be devoutly admired through 
out, with the absolute impossibility of maintaining 

124 



POETRY 

for it, during perusal, the amount of enthusiasm 
which that critical dictum would demand. 
This great work, in fact, is to be regarded as 
poetical, only when, losing sight of that vital 
requisite in all works of Art, Unity, we view it 
merely as a series of minor poems. If, to preserve 
its Unity its totality of effect or impression 
we read it (as would be necessary) at a single 
sitting, the result is but a constant alternation 
of excitement and depression. After a passage of 
true poetry there follows, inevitably, a passage 
of platitude which no critical prejudgment can 
force us to admire ; but if, upon completing the 
work, we read it again, omitting the first book 
(that is to say, commencing with the second), we 
shall be surprised at now finding that admirable 
which we had before condemned that damnable 
which we had previously so much admired. It 
follows from all this that the ultimate, aggregate, 
or absolute effect of even the best epic under the 
sun is a nullity : and this is precisely the fact." 

There is a commonly accepted distinction 
between lyrical and other poems, which appears 
on examination to be merely a rough quantita 
tive division, that counts short poems lyrical. In 
the light of this distinction it has been suggested 
that Poe s arguments against long poems were 
prompted by the fact that he was a lyrical, and 
short-breathed poet himself. His opinion had a 
broader foundation. There is no passage in his 
critical work that goes to prove that he had not, 

125 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

and many that show that he had recognised, 
like Croce in our own day, the lyrical nature of 
all art. He perceived that the essential quality 
of art, whether drama, poem, statue, melody or 
picture, is this same lyricism that was once 
attributed only to poems of a certain brevity. 
Again and again in his work are indications of 
a mind grappling with problems that his own 
understanding set far out of reach of his country 
and time. Poe fought many battles the very 
dust of which could not appear to his contem 
poraries. 

But he could turn from questions as important 
as these, and, with equal eagerness and vivacity, 
discuss the details of his art. Nothing connected 
with poetry was too small for his notice. 

In The Rationale of Verse he attacks the 
teachers of versification much as Hazlitt invaded 
the pedagogic realm of English Grammar. Hazlitt 
asks " Is Quackery a thing, i.e., a substance ? " in 
angry comment on the usual definition of a noun. 
" Versification," Poe quotes in scorn, " is the art 
of arranging words into lines of correspondent 
length, so as to produce harmony by the regular 
alternation of syllables differing in quantity." 
He proceeds to show that it is nothing of the 
sort, and, in doing so, makes several notes that 
let us see how carefully he has thought about 
his art. * He discusses, for example, the question 

126 



POETRY 

of synaeresis, and loudly objects to the practice 
of writing silv ry, am rous, flow ring, in order to 
comply with the arbitrary demands of a fantastic 
scheme of feet. "Blending," he says, "is the 
plain English for synceresis, but there should be 
no blending ; neither is an anapaest ever employed 
for an iambus, or a dactyl for a trochee." He 
pointed out that " there was no absolute necessity 
for adhering to the precise number of syllables, 
provided the time required for the whole foot 
was preserved inviolate." He takes the line, 

" Or laugh and shake in Rabelais easy chair," 

and asks if we suppose it should be scanned and 
pronounced 



wgk f tod shake f m Rab f $aXs--a-f sy 
chairr 



The scanned line above should read : 

" Or laugh | *nd shake | In Rab | late ea | ay 
chair," 



more or less obvious) which any ordinary reader 

can, without design, read improperly. It is the 

business of the poet so to construct his line that 

v the intention must be caught at once" But he 

i states the general proposition that " in all 

rhythms the prevalent or distinctive feet may 

127 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

and many that show that he had recognised, 
like Croce in our own day, the lyrical nature of 
all art. He perceived that the essential quality 
of art, whether drama, poem, statue, melody or 
picture, is this same lyricism that was once 
attributed only to poems of a certain brevity. 
Again and again in his work are indications of 
a mind grappling with problems that his own 
understanding set far out of reach of his country 
and time. Poe fought many battles the very 
dust of which could not appear to his contem 
poraries. 

But he could turn from questions as important 
as these, and, with equal eagerness and vivacity, 
discuss the details of his art. Nothing connected 
with poetry was too small for his notice. 

In The Rationale of Verse he attacks the 
teachers of versification much as Hazlitt invaded 
tl 
a: 
ai 

01 

length, so as to produce harmony by the regular 
alternation of syllables differing in quantity." 
He proceeds to show that it is nothing of the 
sort, and, in doing so, makes several notes that 
let us see how carefully he has thought about 
his art. * He discusses, for example, the question 

126 



POETRY 

of synaeresis, and loudly objects to the practice 
of writing silv ry, am rous, flow ring, in order to 
comply with the arbitrary demands of a fantastic 
scheme of feet. " Blending," he says, " is the 
plain English for synceresis, but there should be 
no blending ; neither is an anapaest ever employed 
for an iambus, or a dactyl for a trochee." He 
pointed out that " there was no absolute necessity 
for adhering to the precise number of syllables, 
provided the time required for the whole foot 
was preserved inviolate." He takes the line, 

" Or laugh and shake in Rabelais easy chair," 

and asks if we suppose it should be scanned and 
pronounced 

" &4agk | tod shaterf m Ratr flats a~f sy 
chairr 

instead of sounding Rabelais in three syllables 9 

the last two being in quick time, so equalising 

and at the same time delightfully varying the 

foot. He was not advocating any looseness of 

metre. On the contrary, he held that "that 

rhythm is erroneous (at some point or other, 

more or less obvious) which any ordinary reader 

can, without design, read improperly. It is the 

business of the poet so to construct his line that 

v the intention must be caught at once" But he 

i states the general proposition that " in all 

rhythms the prevalent or distinctive feet may 

127 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

be varied at will, and nearly at random, by the 

\ occasional introduction of equivalent feet that 

I is to say, feet the sum of whose syllabic times is 

i equal to the sum of the syllabic times of the dis- 

N tinctive feet." This little charter is the base of 

the delicious liberties of such modern verse as 

Mr. Yeats , and holds the secret of all the 

gossamer swayings of those melodies that are 

too delicate for definition, and tune our ears to 

hear the music of the fairies. 

Poe himself makes frequent appeal to it. For 
example, in : 

" No rays from the holy heaven come down 
On the long night-time of that town ; 
But light from out the lurid sea 
Streams up the turrets silently, 
Gleams up the pinnacles far and free : 
Up domes, up spires, up kingly halls, 
Up fanes, up Babylon-like walls, 
Up shadowy long-forgotten bowers 
Of sculptured ivy and stone flowers, 
Up many and many a marvellous shrine 
Whose wreathed friezes intertwine 
The viol, the violet, and the vine." 

The last line of this wonderful little scrap 
of music was the favourite verse of Ernest 
Dowson.* 

Throughout all Poe s writings on poetry blows 

* See Mr. Arthur Symons Essay, prefixed to Dowson s 
Poems. 

128 




POETRY 

a refreshing wind of sense. He defines the 
object of art, and, that done, refuses to let detail 
obstruct the distant vision. Details are all-im 
portant, but he insists on seeing them as details, 
as means, not ends, and will not allow the fly 
ing dust of argument to blind him to the 
purpose in relation to which alone they are 
worth discussion. He writes of refrains, of 
internal and triplicate rhyme, of the vivid effect 
that can be wrought by the use of rhyme at 
unexpected places, and, in all this, never for a 
moment allows himself to generalise without 
a view to practice. He upholds legitimate 
liberties, because they are a help to the making 
of beauty. He condemns illegitimate licence, 
because it is a help to the vanity of the incom 
petent. Like Dionysius of Halicarnassus, he has 
no praise for the inversion of the poetasters^ .-* If 
a man wishes to speak of a well, whose waters 
swell amid its chill and drear confines, he must 
not write 

" Its confines chill and drear amid," 
and imagine that he is making poetry. 

" Few things have a greater tendency than in 
version to render verse feeble and ineffective. In 
most cases where a line is spoken of as forcible, 
the force may be referred to directness of ex-j 
pression. A vast majority of the passages which, 
have become household through frequent quota-* 

129 i 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

tion owe their popularity either to this directness, 
or, in general, to the scorn of poetic licence. In 
- , fehort, as regards verbal construction, the more 
I / prosaic a poetical style is, the better." 

L { In writing of the possibilities of verse, Poe 
l\traces a possible history of its development from 
\ihe rudimentary spondee. 

" The very germ of a thought, seeking satisfac 
tion in equality of sound, would result in the 
construction of words of two syllables equally 
accented. . . . The perception of monotone 
having given rise to an attempt at its relief, the 
first thought in this new direction would be 
that of collating two or more words formed each 
of two syllables differently accented (that is 
to say, short and long) but having the same 
order in each word : in other terms, of collating 
two or more iambuses, or two or more trochees. 
. . . The success of the experiment with the 
trochees or iambuses (the one would have sug 
gested the other) must have led to a trial of 
dactyls or anapaests natural dactyls or anapaests 
dactylic or anapaestic words. . . . We have 
now gone so far as to suppose men constructing 
indefinite sequences of spondaic, iambic, trochaic, 
dactylic or anapaestic words. In extending these 
sequences, they would be again arrested by the 
sense of monotone. A succession of spondees 
would immediately have displeased ; one of iambuses 
or of trochees, on account of the variety included 
within the foot itself, would have taken longer 
to displease ; one of dactyls or anapaests, still 

130 



POETRY 

longer ; but even the last, if extended very far, 
must have become wearisome. The idea, first of 
curtailing, and secondly, of defining the length 
of a sequence, would thus at once have arisen. 
Here then is the line, or verse proper. . . . Lines 
being once introduced, the necessity of distinctly 
defining these lines to the ear (as yet written 
verse does not exist) would lead to a scrutiny of 
their capabilities at their terminations ; and now 
would spring up the idea of equality in sound 
between the final syllables in other words, of 
rhyme. . . . That men have so obstinately and 
blindly insisted, in general, even up to the present 
day, in confining rhyme to the ends of lines, 
when its effect is even better applicable elsewhere, 
intimates, in my opinion, the sense of some 
necessity in the connection of the end with rhyme 
hints that the origin of rhyme lay in a necessity 
which connected it with the end shows that 
neither mere accident nor mere fancy gave rise 
to the connection points, in a word, at the very 
necessity which I have suggested (that of some 
mode of defining lines to the ear) as the true , 
origin of rhyme. . . . The narrowness of the 
limits within which verse composed of natural 
feet alone must necessarily have been confined, 
would have led, after a very brief interval, to the 
trial and immediate adoption of artificial feet 
that is to say, of feet not constituted each of a 
single word, but two or even three words, or of 
parts of words. These feet would be intermingled 
with natural ones. . . . And now, in our sup 
posititious progress, we have gone so far as to 
exhaust all the essentialities of verse." 

131 



EDGAR ALLAN FOE 

He proceeds to discuss such valuable inessen 
tials as alliteration and refrains. The frequent 
use of the refrain is characteristic of his own 
poetry. It is sometimes the burden at the closes 
of the stanzas that he believes was its origin, but he 
notices " that further cultivation would improve 
also the refrain in slightly varying the phrase at 
each repetition or (as I have attempted to do in 
The Raven) in retaining the phrase and varying 
its application although the latter point is not 
strictly a rhythmical effect alone." In The 
Raven " Nevermore " does not become the re 
frain until the eighth out of the eighteen stanzas. 
" Nothing more," varied in application, ends six 
of them ; " evermore " the seventh. Of the 
eleven stanzas that end in " nevermore," six of the 
last lines are differently worded. The monotony of 
the remaining five refrains, " Quoth the Raven, 
Nevermore, " is made surprising and changeful 
by the stanzas that they close. A similar method 
is followed in The Bridal Ballad, and, much 
more delicately, in Ulalume^here three of the 
nine stanzas end with variations upon 

" It was hard by the dim lake of Auber, 

In the misty mid region of Weir : 
It was down by the dank tarn of Auber, 
In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir," 

which is also a good example of Foe s economical 
use of alliteration. Another form of refrain, that 

132 



POETRY 

is no more than a reinforcing echo, is used in this 
poem and in others. 

" The skies they were ashen and sober ; 
The leaves they were crisped and sere, 

The leaves they were withering arid sere." 

In Ulalume it is part of the obvious design of 

the stanzas, which are meant to be whispering- 
galleries. Elsewhere it is made to seem a care 
less accident. In the musical and wave-like flow 
of speech it is as if one wave has chosen to break 
before its time. 

" In the greenest of our valleys 

By good angels tenanted, 
Once a fair and stately palace 
Radiant palace raised its head." 

In the following example it is combined with 
another effect that is peculiarly Poe s : 

" Over the lilies there that wave 
And weep above a nameless grave ! 
They wave : from out their fragrant tops 

. Eternal dews come down in drops." 

Here, beside the half-suggested echo of " wave," 
is a wholly unexpected rhyme. Poe s theory on 
this point was not early developed. He writes 
in The Rationale of Verse, continuing his 
history : 

" Finally, poets when fairly wearied with fol 
lowing precedent following it the more closely 

133 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

the less they perceived it in company with reason 
would adventure so far as to indulge in positive 
rhyme at other points than the ends of lines. 
First, they would put it in the middle of the 
line ; then at some point where the multiple 
would be less obvious ; then, alarmed at their 
own audacity, they would undo all their work 
by cutting these lines in two. And here is the 
fruitful source of the infinity of short metre, by 
which modern poetry, if not distinguished, is at 
least disgraced. It would require a high degree, 
indeed, both of cultivation and of courage, on 
the part of any versifier, to enable him to place 
his rhymes and let them remain at unques- 

/ tionably their best position, that of unusual and 

/ unanticipated intervals." 

Foe had not always thought so, and his own 
verse had been so " disgraced." The lines of 
Lenore, as they were first printed, were cut in 
two and in three. 

Oscar Wilde s Sphinx is the best example 
I can remember of thus printing the lines with 
reference to themselves rather than to the rhymes 
that they contain. 

" The river horses in the slime trumpeted when 

they saw him come 

Odorous with Syrian galbanum and smeared 
with spikenard and with thyme." 

The delicacy of the lines would be cruelly 
bruised if they were printed 

134 



POETRY 

" The river horses in the slime 

Trumpeted when they saw him come 
Odorous with Syrian galbanum 
And smeared with spikenard and with thyme." 

Examples of Poe s unanticipated rhymes are : 

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each 

purple curtain 
Thrilled me filled me with fantastic horrors 

never felt before," 

and 

? That the wind came out of the cloud by night? 
* Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee." 



But although it would be interesting to follow 
in detail the influence of Poe s attention to his 
instrument on the music he touched from its 
strings, it is perhaps more profitable to consider 
them separately. I wish to turn now to a dis 
cussion of the characteristics of Poe s small body 
of verse. One or two curious facts at once pre 
sent themselves for explanation. 

Scarcely any English critics but many French 
have held his poetry to be his most perfect ex 
pression. There is something in it that annoys 
the English reader, if ever so slightly, and that 
something disappears for the foreigner. This is 
itself sufficient to suggest that we must put it 
down to a quality of his language. In doing so 

135 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

we are on very quaggy ground, since words and 
their haloes of suggested meaning are the very 
stuff of poetry, and in quarrelling with their use 
we are very sure to be scarcely upon speaking 
terms with the poems in which they are contained. 
It is impossible to quarrel with a poet s wording 
without quarrelling with his poetry. But there 
is in much new poetry a novelty of language 
that distresses us until we are accustomed to it. 
Dialect poetry suffers from a similar disadvantage. 
It is like seeing a new actress in an old part : a 
novelty not distressing to any one unfamiliar with 
the part, and not haunted by memories of the 
older actresses who played it so incomparably 
Well. This novelty or strangeness of language is 
less keenly perceived by a foreigner. Baudelaire 
and Mallarme are not shocked by it, because 
they do not see it, and, in their wonderful 
prose versions, it naturally disappears. We may 
even have to go to these French translations 
to learn the pleasure that waits for us in the 
originals. 

I choose an example from The Sleeper, the 
-poem of all Poe s that I consider least touched 
by this finger of strangeness. 

" O lady bright ! can it be right, 
This window open to the night ? 
The wanton airs from the tree-top, 
Laughingly through the lattice drop ; 
136 



POETRY 

The bodiless airs, a wizard rout, 

Flit through thy chamber in and out, 

And wave the curtain canopy 

So fitfully, so fearfully, 

Above the closed and fringed lid 

Neath which thy slumb ring soul lies hid, 

That o er the floor and down the wall, 

Like ghosts the shadows rise and fall. 

O Icidy dear\ hast thou no fear ? 

Why and what art thou dreaming here ? 

Sure thou art come o er far-off seas, 

A wonder to these garden trees ! 

Strange is thy pallor ; strange thy dress, 

And this all solemn silentness ! " 



I can read that now with a pleasure quite unspoilt 
by the memory that once the two lines here printed 
in italics pained me so that I could find no readiness 
of enjoyment for the others. Incredible as now 
it seems to me, I had to learn its excellence from 
Mallarme s version where those two sharp repeats 
(not objectionable, perhaps admirable, in them 
selves) were smoothed away with the " dear " and 
the " bright " that had bothered me. 

" Oh ! dame brillante, vraiment est-ce bien, 
cette fenetre ouverte a la nuit ? Les airs folatres 
se laissent choir du haut de Farbre rieusement 
par la persienne ; les airs incorporels, troupe 
magique, voltigent au dedans et au dehors de la 
chambre, et agitent les rideaux du baldaquin si 
brusquement si terriblement au-dessus des 
closes paupieres frangees ou ton ame en le somme 

187 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

git cachee, que, le long du plancher et en has du 
mur, comme des fantomes s eleve et descend 
1 ombre. Oh ! dame aimee, n as-tu pas peur ? 
Pourquoi ou a quoi reves-tu maintenant ici ? Sur, 
tu es venue de par les mers du loin, merveille 
pour les arbres de ces jardins. Etrange est ta 
paleur ! etrange est ta toilette ! etrange par-dessus 
tout ta longueur de cheveux, et tout ce solennel 
silence ! " 

And was this the poem that my impatience 
hid from me ? I turned from one to the other 
until at last Foe s language became my own, and 
his verses flapped their dusky, jewelled wings 
unsmudged before my eyes. 

Poe is not alone among poets in thus not 
easily becoming manifest in his own person. 
Himself found the language of Wordsworth 
repugnant and vulgar. A poet like Lascelles 
Abercrombie is not so easily recognised as, for 
example, a poet like Ernest Dowson. When 
Abercrombie writes : 

" And full of the very ardour out of God 
Come words, lit with white fires, having past 

through 

The fearful hearth in Heaven where, unmixt, 
Unfed, the First Beauty terribly burns. 
A great flame is the world, splendid and brave ; 
But words come carrying such a vehemence 
Of Godhead, glowing so hot out of the holy 

kiln, 

138 



POETRY 

The place of fire whence the blaze of existence 

rose, 
That dulled in brightness looks the world 

against them, 
Even the radiant thought of man," 

he will find even worthy readers to ask themselves, 
" And is this poetry ? " They may ask it more 
than once, before, at last, the thing is freed for 
them, or the passages of their ears for it, and 
their hearts greet it with joyful acclamation. 
And the reasons for this foreignness of much true 
poetry are not all the same. With Abercrombie 
it may be that his words are accustomed to a 
high world of metaphysical thought where 
we must climb to meet them. With Words 
worth it may be simply the result of an ex 
aggerated theory, fertile like all exaggerations. 
With Poe, it may be the strange web between 
himself and the America he knew, so much 
further from England than that of Hawthorne 
or of Emerson. 

It would be possible to collect many instances 
of an apparent deafness or bluntness that is 
painful to those brought up in another atmo 
sphere, where certain discords or worn-out 
expressions are become forbidden things or 
laughable accidents. 

From Ulalume : 

" She revels in a region of sighs." 
139 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

From Lenore : 

" The sweet Lenore hath gone before/ * with 
lope that flew beside." 

From The Raven : 

"Is there is there balm in Gilead ? tell me 
ell me, I implore." 

There is this difficulty of language that repels 
readers from his poetry. There are also some 
considerations of technique. The most obvious 
characteristic of Foe s verse is its tunefulness. 

"It is in Music, perhaps, that the soul most 
nearly attains the great end for which, when 
/ inspired by the Poetic Sentiment, it struggles 
the creation of supernal Beauty. It may be, 
indeed, that here the sublime end is, now and 
then, attained in fact. We are often made to 
feel, with a shivering delight, that from an earthly 
harp are stricken notes which cannot have been 
unfamiliar to the angels." 

Such nqtes are sometimes struck by Poe, as in 
the bodiless Isrqfel But sometimes, also, his 
rather indelicate melody makes him suffer from 
the admiration of those who like tavern music, 
not because, like Sir Thomas Browne, they hear 
in it some echo of the music of the spheres, but 

* It has been objected that the vulgarisation of the phrase 
printed in quotation marks has taken place since Poe used it. 
The reply is that it was actually so printed in a version of 
Lenore published in Poe s lifetime. 

140 



POETRY 

because they require of music, as of poetry, that 
it shall rest their heads and be a kind of tuneful 
soporific. On the other hand, it brings him the 
contempt of some more valuable readers, who 
remember the rather heartless melody of The 
Sells, and dismiss him as a jingle-monger. 
Sometimes, too, words and melody do not match, 
and in " marrying music to immortal verse " he 
makes a mariage de convenance, and, though the 
bride be lovely and the bridegroom strong, there is 
no wedding guest but is conscious of the ugliness 
of their union, even if he feels this ugliness only 
as an uncomfortable dissatisfaction in himself. 

But, in his best poems, as in his best tales, he 
touches perfection. His finest stories are un 
alterable from start to finish. His rare poems 
are as flawless as a crystal drop, whose symmetry 
the touch of a finger, be it never so delicate, would 
utterly destroy. To Helen, for example : 

" Helen, thy beauty is to me 

Like those Nicsean barks of yore, 
That gently, o er a perfumed sea, 
The weary, wayworn wanderer bore 
To his own native shore. 

" On desperate seas long wont to roam, 
Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face, 
Thy Naiad airs, have brought me home 
To the glory that was Greece 
And the grandeur that was Rome. 
141 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

" Lo ! in yon brilliant window-niche 
How statue-like I see thee stand, 
The agate lamp within thy hand ! 
Ah, Psyche, from the regions which 
Are Holy Land ! " 

Or Israfel, more than worthy of the improve 
ment on the Koran with which he introduces it : 

"And the angel Israfel, whose heart-strings 
are a lute, and who has the sweetest voice of all 
God s creatures." Koran. 

66 In Heaven a spirit doth dwell 
Whose heart-strings are a lute ; 

None sing so wildly well 

As the angel Israfel, 

And the giddy stars (so legends tell) 

Ceasing their hymns, attend the spell 
Of his voice, all mute. 

" Tottering above 

In her highest noon, 
The enamoured moon 
Blushes with love, 

While, to listen, the red levin 
(With the rapid Pleiads, even, 
Which were seven) 
Pauses in Heaven. 

" And they say (the starry choir 

And the other listening things) 
That Israfeli s fire 
Is owing to that lyre 

By which he sits and sings, 
The trembling living wire 
Of those unusual strings. 
142 



POETRY 

" But the skies that angel trod, 

Where deep thoughts are a duty, 

Where Love s a grown-up God, 
Where the Houri glances are 

Imbued with all the beauty 
Which we worship in a star. 

" Therefore thou art not wrong, 

Israfeli, who despisest 
An unimpassioned song ; 
To thee the laurels belong, 

Best bard, because the wisest : 
Merrily live, and long ! 

" The ecstasies above 

With thy burning measures suit : 
Thy grief, thy joy, thy hate, thy love, 
With the fervor of thy lute : 
Well may the stars be mute ! 

" Yes, Heaven is thine ; but this 
Is a world of sweets and sours ; 
Our flowers are merely flowers, 
And the shadow of thy perfect bliss 
Is the sunshine of ours. 

" If I could dwell 
Where Israfel 

Hath dwelt, and he where 1, 
He might not sing so wildly well 

A mortal melody, 
While a bolder note than this might swell 

From my lyre within the sky." 

Some of his most famous poems seem to me 
among his least successful. The Raven, for 

143 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

1 example, a tour de force, a skilful piece of tech 
nique, is a well-shaped body that has never 
had a soul to lose. In Ulalume skill almost 
swamps inspiration. Annabel Lee, another 
work of his last years, may have been spoilt for 
me by painstaking young ladies at their mothers 
pianos. I cannot read it with pleasure, though 
I find myself repeating some of its lines. I find 
his best poetry in the revisions of his youthful 
work, like The Sleeper, and 77/6 City in the Sea, 

. and the poems printed above. 

It seems, on first observing it, strange that the 
note of horror that sounds so often in the tales 
should be almost absent from the poems. There 
is, certainly, The Conqueror Worm, and, perhaps, 
The Haunted Palace: but the one belongs to 
Ligeia, and the other to The Fall of the House 
of Usher. The gloom of the poems is of a less 
various texture than that of the prose. I believe 
that the difference is due to a rather curious 
misconception as to beauty itself. In other parts 
of this book we see how far Foe walked on the 
right track in eliminating from the beautiful any 
kind of passion, in showing that beauty is a con 
dition and not an emotion, in asking that poetry 
should aim only at securing this condition, and 
not allow itself to be deflected by any considera 
tion of didacticism or other side issue. Here we 
must notice that he went too far, and narrowed 

144 



POETRY 

the scope of his verse by rejecting, as incapable 
o/ beauty, a great mass of material that his own 
prose showed need not be anything of the kind. 
He writes : " The author who aims at the purely 
beautiful in a prose tale is labouring at a great 
disadvantage. For Beauty can be better treated 
in the poem. Not so with terror, or passion, or 
horror, or a multitude of other such points." 
Elsewhere he still more clearly betrays himself: 

66 We shall reach, however, more immediately 
a distinct conception of what the true Poetry 
is, by mere reference to a few of the simple 
elements which induce in the Poet himself the 
true poetical effect. He recognises the ambrosia, 
which nourishes his soul, in the bright orbs that 
shine in Heaven, in the volutes of the flower, in 
the clustering of low shrubberies, in the waving 
of the grain-fields, in the slanting of the tall, 
Eastern trees, in the blue distance of mountains, 
in the grouping of clouds, in the twinkling of 
half-hidden brooks, in the gleaming of silver 
rivers, in the repose of sequestered lakes, in the 
star-mirroring depths of lonely wells. He per 
ceives it in the songs of birds, in the harp of 
^Eolus, in the sighing of the night-wind, in the 
repining voice of the forest, in the surf that 
complains to the shore, in the fresh breath of the 
woods, in the scent of the violet, in the volup 
tuous perfume of the hyacinth, in the suggestive 
odour that comes to him at eventide from far- 
distant, undiscovered islands, over dim oceans, 
illimitable and unexplored. He owns it in all 

145 K 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

noble thoughts, in all unworldly motives, in all 
holy impulses, in all chivalrous, generous, and 
self-sacrificing deeds. He feels it in the beauty 
of woman, in the grace of her step, in the lustre 
of her eye, in the melody of her voice, in her soft 
laughter, in her sigh, in the harmony of the rust 
ling of her robes. He deeply feels it in her 
winning endearments, in her burning enthusiasms, 
in her gentle charities, in her meek and devotional 
endurances ; but above all ah ! far above all- 
he kneels to it, he worships it in the faith, in the 
purity, in the strength, in the altogether divine 
majesty of her love." 

There is more than a hint here of declamation 
and an impressible audience, but, taken with the 
sentences quoted before it, it provides the key 
we seek. What is it but a catalogue of lovely 
accidents, from which all that we have not grown 
accustomed, in our loose way, to call beautiful, 
is excluded ? With such a conception of the 
inspirations of poetry, counting them distinct 
from those of prose, it is not surprising that Poe s 
excursions as a poet seemed visits to Arcady. 
He never returned to his youthful poems without 
the feelings of a man remembering the Golden 
Age. He brought to their revision the know 
ledge that prose work had given him, and made 
no changes that were not for the better. But he 
never let his poetry follow his development. It 
represented only one of his aspects. He would 

146 



POETRY 

keep it always a charming child, or a dreaming 
Eros that no Psyche could wake with burning oil. 

" Rafael made a century of sonnets, 
Made and wrote them in a certain volume 
Dinted with the silver-pointed pencil 
Else he only used to draw Madonnas." 

Poe s verse was to the prose-writer what 
Rafael s sonnets were to the painter, that other 
art, not his, and yet particularly his own, cherished 
for a supreme purpose. In it, to paraphrase 
Browning, he gained the artist s joy, missed the 
man s sorrow, finding the work more complex, 
and so, to such as he, a greater pleasure, and 
fixing in it, and refixing in revision, those 
moments that seemed so fair as to be foreign to 
his life. 



i. 



147 



ANALYSIS 



ANALYSIS 

TWO sorts of men spend time on riddles : fools 
and the very clever ; fools because, in sitting 
before a conundrum, aimlessly puzzling their 
brains and occasionally chancing on a solution, 
they gain a specious sense of intellectual activity ; 
the very clever because they find in acrostics and 
such things an outlet for that one of their 
faculties that moves most easily with its own 
momentum, that works ceaselessly in spite of 
themselves, and, like the grindstone of a mill, 
groans for material on which to exercise itself. 
This faculty is analysis, a tool in the equipment 
of all artists. So important is it to them that it 
would not be surprising to learn that the con 
verse were also true, and that all analysts were 
capable of art. If it were discovered that 
Euclid had written poetry beside those wonder 
ful thirteen books, there would be no more 
incongruity in the double accomplishment than 
in Poe s writing Silence : a Fable as well as 
The Purloined Letter and his article pn cryp 
tograms. There would be no incongruity at all. 

151 



EDGAR ALLAN FOE 

The same faculty that produced the one made 
also possible the other. Analysis is the art of 
disentangling, and the muddled skein of our 
feelings *and images must first be disentangled 
before we can knit together the firm plait of a 
lyrical expression. Analysis is more than obser 
vation ; it clears the moss from the pebble and 
lets its colouring appear, and with careful fingers 
frees the honeysuckle from its surrounding 
brambles. It makes selection possible, though 
the poet, conscious of what he does, would 
say more truly that it helps him to reject, 
to throw aside the arbitrary, the inessential, 
leaving, perhaps, gaps that miraculously fill 
themselves like the holes we make when we 
scoop a floating piece of dirt from a still pool 
of water. 

This faculty was extraordinarily developed in 
Poe, and overflowed its legitimate place in his 
creative work. It had its share in laying upon 
him the curse of self-consciousness for which we 
value him so highly. It was, at last, like fire 
who is better as a slave than as a master, to rise 
up and battle with his imagination instead of 
doing its loyal best to aid it. He found, like 
Brockden Brown, whose books very probably 
influenced him, that " curiosity, like virtue, is its 
own reward," or, at least, that the delight of the 
analysis that curiosity inspires is sufficient as a 

152 



ANALYSIS 

motive for itself. His exercise of it became as 
necessary to him as absinthe to the absinthe- 
drinker ; it was greedy of his energies, and grew 
in greed with his efforts to satisfy it. He might 
have cried with Faustus : " Sweet Analytics, tis 
thou hast ravished me ! " The same faculty that 
made possible the lyrical excellence of his best 
works, and gave his critical articles their most 
valuable paragraphs, spoilt Eureka, and urged 
him to the solution of cryptograms and the study 
of handwriting ; and, turning from the solution of 
puzzles to their manufacture, set him to the com 
position of acrostic sonnets and to the invention 
of tales of analysis in which it becomes the material 
as well as the tool of art, the excitement of 
reasoning being substituted for that of love or 
terror. 

There is a kind of insolence in the making of 
acrostics when one might be making poetry. It 
is an impertinence in the face of the gods, as if a 
man running a race were to stop for a moment 
before the judges stand, and fold a cocked hat 
from a piece of paper, before resuming the 
contest whose result they are to decide. The 
excellence of the cocked hat and most of Poe s 
exercises in this kind exhibit an almost deplorable 
cleverness does not in the least affect our half- 
admiring, half-resentful impatience of his having 
dared to fold it in such circumstances. 

153 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

" Seldom we find/ says Solomon Don Dunce, 

6 Half aji idea in the profoundest sonnet. 
Through all the flimsy things we see at once 
As easily as through a Naples bonnet 
Trash of all trash ! How can a lady don it ? 
Yet heavier far than your Petrarchan stuff, 
Owl- downy nonsense that the faintest puff 

Twirls into trunk-paper the while you con it. 
And veritably, Sol is right enough. 
The general, tuckermanities are arrant 
Bubbles, ephemeral and $o transparent ; 

But this is, now, you may depend upon it, 
Stable, opaque, immortal all by dint 
Of the dear names that lie concealed within t." 

That is one of Poe s cocked hats. To unfold 
it, take the first letter in the first line, the second 
in the second line, the third in the third, and so 
on, until the fourteen letters spread out into a 
name that, but for the insolent fun of it (though 
it reads dully to us), might have been better 
written so than in these fourteen empty verses. 

There is something of the same flippant serious 
ness in the analysis of Maelzel s Chess-Player, an 
automaton very neatly and unnecessarily pulled 
to pieces with the help of Sir David Brewster. 
Time is wasted just as earnestly in the still 
cleverer essay on solving cryptograms. Only, 
when we turn from all these exercises (which 
may have served a purpose in turning play to 
bread and butter) and read the four tales in which 

154 



ANALYSIS 

Poe s analysis snatched an independent aesthetic 
value, and turned into a kind of poetry, have we 
the satisfaction of feeling that there is no more a 
question of cocked hats, but of the business of 
the day. 

These four tales are The Murders in the Rue 
Morgue, The Mystery of Marie Roget, The 
Purloined Letter, and The Gold Bug. Of 
these, The Gold Bug, though not the first 
written, is not free from elements of another 
kind. The law-court atmosphere of evidence and 
deduction is shaken by breaths of romance. The 
skull and cross-bones of Captain Kidd wave on 
a black flag before our eyes, and the process of 
analysis is carried out in a lonely hut and in a 
forest of tropical trees. When the analysis is 
over, the tale closes on a note of different 
character, a hollow knell, so carefully sounded as 
almost to make us forget the original interest of 
the tale in a moment of romantic speculation. 
" Perhaps a couple of blows with a mattock were 
sufficient, while his coadjutors were busy in the 
pit ; perhaps it required a dozen who shall tell ? " 
For some reason or other Poe was afraid to trust 
himself to the mechanism he had already proved. 
He needed flesh and blood to steady his belief in 
the thin steel framework and infinitesimal wires 
of his machine. 

^ But in the other tales, the trilogy of Dupin, he 

155 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

gaily cast off his safe anchor in romance, and 
adventured on the untried wings of curiosity and 
analysis. In the beginning he was perhaps over- 
conscious of the novelty of his experiment. The 
first eleven pages of The Murders in the Rue 
Morgue are taken up with an elaborate account 
of the new motive power, almost as if he were 
reassuring himself. He has to talk of analysis, 
and then of its personification in Dupin, of the 
motive power and then of the engine in which it 
is to be used, before, in the story itself, he gives, 
as it were, a trial and a specimen flight. The 
Mystery of Marie Roget has scarcely a page of 
introduction. There is a short reference to the 
former flight, and the inventor is in the air again. 
The Purloined Letter is without preliminaries. 
Confident that the machine will bear him, he 
rises instantly from the ground. 

It is possible to illustrate the method and 
design of this machine by showing the model, 
the small example of analysis that Poe used in 
his introduction to the first of his three experi 
ments. The specimen will cover a few pages 
that can ill be spared, but will repay us by being 
at hand for reference. It is, indeed, a complete 
tale in itself, a working model designed for 
examination. 

" We were strolling one night down a long 
dirty street, in the vicinity of the Palais Royal. 

156 



ANALYSIS 

Being both, apparently, occupied with thought, 
neither of us had spoken a syllable for fifteen 
minutes at least. All at once Dupin broke 
forth with these words : 

" He is a very little fellow, that s true, and 
would do better for the Theatre des Varietes? 

" There can be no doubt of that, I replied 
unwittingly, and not at first observing (so much 
had I been absorbed in reflection) the extra 
ordinary manner in which the speaker had 
chimed in with my meditations. In an instant 
afterward I recollected myself, and my astonish 
ment was profound. 

" Dupin, said I, gravely, this is beyond my 
comprehension. I do not hesitate to say that I 
am amazed, and can scarcely credit my senses. 
How was it possible you should know I was 

thinking of ? Here I paused, to ascertain 

beyond a doubt whether he really knew of whom 
I thought. 

" Of Chantilly, said he, why do you pause ? 
You were remarking to yourself that his diminu 
tive figure unfitted him for tragedy. 

" This was precisely what had formed the 
subject of my reflections. Chantilly was a 
quondam cobbler of the Rue St. Denis, who, 
becoming stage-mad, had attempted the role of 
Xerxes, in Cr^billon s tragedy so called, and been 
notoriously pasquinaded for his pains. 

" Tell me, for Heayen s sake, I exclaimed, 
the method if method there is by which you 
have been enabled to fathom my soul in this 
matter. In fact I was even more startled than 
I would have been willing to express. 

157 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 



(( 6 



It was the fruiterer/ replied my friend, 
who brought you to the conclusion that the 
mender of soles was not of sufficient height for 
Xerxes et id genus omne. 

" The fruiterer ! you astonish me I know 
no fruiterer whomsoever. 

" The man who ran up against you as we 
entered the street it may have been fifteen 
minutes ago. 

" I now remembered that, in fact, a fruiterer, 
carrying upon his head a large basket of apples, 
had nearly thrown me down, by accident, as we 
passed from the Rue C into the thorough 
fare where we stood ; but what this had to do 
with Chantilly I could not possibly understand. 

" There was not a particle of cliarlatanerie 
about Dupin. I will explain, he said, and 
that you may comprehend all clearly, we will 
first retrace the course of your meditations, from 
the moment in which I spoke to you until that 
of the rencontre with the fruiterer in question. 
The larger links of the chain run thus Chantilly, 
Orion, Dr. Nichols, Epicurus, Stereotomy, the 
street stones, the fruiterer. 

" There are few persons who have not, at some 
period of their lives, amused themselves in re 
tracing the steps by which particular conclusions 
of their own minds have been attained. The 
occupation is often full of interest, and he who 
attempts it for the first time is astonished by the 
apparently illimitable distance and incoherence 
between the starting-point and the goal. What, 
then, must have been my amazement when I 
heard the Frenchman speak what he had just 

158 



ANALYSIS 

spoken, and when I could not help acknow 
ledging that he had spoken the truth. He 
continued : 

" We had been talking of horses, if 1 remember 

aright, just before leaving the Rue C . This 

was the last subject we discussed. As we crossed 
into the street, a fruiterer, with a large basket 
upon his head, brushing quickly past us, thrust 
you upon a pile of paving-stones collected at a 
spot where the causeway is undergoing repair. 
You stepped upon one of the loose fragments, 
slipped, slightly strained your ankle, appeared 
vexed or sulky, muttered a few words, turned to 
look at the pile, and then proceeded in silence. 
I was not particularly attentive to what you did, 
but observation has become with me, of late, a 
species of necessity. 

" You kept your eyes upon the ground 
glancing, with a petulant expression at the holes 
and ruts in the pavement (so that I saw you 
were still thinking of the stones), until we reached 
the little alley called Lamartine, which has been 
paved, by &way of experiment, with the over 
lapping and riveted blocks. Here your counten 
ance brightened up, and perceiving your lips 
move, I could not doubt that you murmured the 
word " stereotomy," a term very affectedly applied 
to this species of pavement. 1 knew that you 
could not say to yourself " stereotomy " without 
being brought to think of atomies, and thus of 
the theories of Epicurus ; and since, when we 
discussed this subject not very long ago, I 
mentioned to you how singularly, yet with how 
little notice, the vague guesses of that noble 

159 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

Greek had met with confirmation in the late 
nebular cosmogony, I felt that you could not 
avoid casting your eyes upwards to the great 
nebula in Orion, and I certainly expected that 
you would do so. You did look up, and I was 
now assured that I had correctly followed your 
steps. But in that bitter tirade upon Chantilly, 
which appeared in yesterday s Musee, the satirist, 
making some disgraceful allusions to the cobbler s 
change of name upon assuming the buskin, quoted 
a Latin line about which we have often conversed. 
I mean the line : 

" * Perdidit antiquum litera prima sonum. 

" I had told you that this was in reference to 
Orion, formerly written Urion ; and, from 
certain pungencies connected with this explana 
tion 1 was aware that you could not have 
forgotten it. It was clear, therefore, that you 
would not fail to combine the two ideas of Orion 
and Chantilly. That you did combine them I 
saw by the character of the smile which passed 
over your lips. You thought of the poor cobbler s 
immolation. So far, you had been stooping in 
your gait ; but now I saw you draw yourself up 
to your full height. I was then sure that you 
reflected upon the diminutive figure of Chantilly. 
At this point 1 interrupted your meditations to 
remark that as, in fact, he was a very little fellow 
that Chantilly, he would do better at the Theatre 
des Varietes" 

The interest of that anecdote is the same as 
the interest of the three tales to which it is a 

160 



ANALYSIS 

prelude. It does not consist in dulled waiting 
upon a solution, but in " a pleasurable activity 
of mind." It is a kind of gymnastic with which 
Poe exercised his analytical powers, and it is also 
something more. Poe s work is difficult to treat 
of as a whole, because of his tendency to the 
segregation of particular moods of his mind. 
This separation of moods is common to all men 
of lyrical expression ; but, whereas with most 
artists the moods separated are temperamental, 
the faculty of analysis assisting the disentangling 
of one mood from another, Poe goes further, and 
separates analysis itself. He, at bottom a critic 
and thinker, wore several masks in turn, and a 
study of him can only hope to reach the truth by 
the examination of all these masks as circum 
stantial evidence. But of them all, analysis is 
the one that, for good or evil, he least readily 
laid aside, the only one that completely obscures 
his possession of other dominoes. The puzzles, 
the acrostics, the cryptograms, show how much 
waste energy this mask allowed him to spend. 
The anecdote we have just read will show how 
he was able to turn this faculty of his brain into 
the material for lyrical expression. 
/Tn those tales Poe does not ask us to be sur 
prised at the cleverness of Dupin. The little 
story I have quoted tells us nothing about Dupin 
but his name, yet our ignorance does not in the 

161 L 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

least affect our enjoyment. We are amazed, not 
at Dupin s subtlety, but at the human mind. 
Dupin is not an analyst, but analysis. It is for 
that reason that some people have complained of 
his lack of individuality.) They might as well 
complain of Nicolete in the old French tale. 
Dupin and Nicolete are not individual but univer 
sal. Not that I would suggest any coarse alle 
gory in either case /although Poe has been very 
careful, in the few details he cares to give us, to 
start no false hare of personality, and to leave 
Dupin free to be what he is. Analysis, for 
example, loves the dark. So does Dupin. " His 
manner at these moments (the exercise of his 
analytic abilities) was frigid and abstract ; his 
eyes were vacant in expression ; while his voice, 
usually a rich tenor, ran into a treble which 
would have sounded petulantly but for the de- 
liberateness and entire distinctness of the enuncia 
tion." Is not that a vivid observation of the 
physical expression of analysis itself ? And then 
again : " Observing him in these moods, I often 
dwelt meditatively upon the old philosophy of 
the Bi-Part Soul, and amused myself with the 
fancy of a double Dupin the creative and the 
resolvent." And, finally, " There was not a 
particle of charlatanerie about Dupin." I can 
imagine Euclid saying the same in a hymn of 
praise to his geometry. " I will explain," he 

1G2 



ANALYSIS 

said, and Foe s three stories are a lyrical per 
sonification of the explaining faculties of the 
mind. 

The abstract can never be the material of art. 
It has already passed beyond particular expres 
sion into the regions of thought. It has left 
feeling behind. It can no longer lose in transla 
tion, since it is practically independent of the 
words that are used to note it down. But Foe 
is not moved here by an abstract idea, fc Dupin 
is no wooden dummy chosen to illustrate such 
and such abstract principles. Instead, the reason 
ing powers of a mind that keenly enjoyed them 
have flowered suddenly into something concrete 
and particular) The abstract Love has become 
the concrete Nicolete, who cast a shadow in the 
moonlit streets of Beaucaire. A new moment 
of the unconscious human life (unconscious of 
itself even in its moments of careful reason) has 
been isolated and made real. We have another 
scrap of conscious life in which our brains can 
shake their weights off and be lucidly alive. 
Many analysts, geometricians and draughts- 
players must have surprisedly awakened to them 
selves in reading those three tales. 

Let us now examine the architecture of these 
stories, in which, perhaps more clearly than in 
his other work, Foe s skill in narrative is manifest. 
In the anecdote we have read, the solution and 

163 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

the question are presented first and together, and 
the interest is free from any anxiety to know the 
end. It lies simply in retracing the ^steps by 
which the solution was attained, f In The 
Murders in the Rue Morgue the question is 
first posed, with all the evidence, over which the 
reader s mind runs in hopeless emulation of the 
power that is then applied to it before his eyes. 
The solution follows, and finally the solution and 
the steps by wMchit has been found are one by 
one explained, i iln The Mystery of Marie 
Eoget the question is first stated, followed by 
the evidence, interspersed with examples of false 
reasoning which are disposed of by Dupin, who 
works through them to the clue, which, as he 
makes clear, is itself a solution. / /In The Pur 
loined Letter the question is first posed, with 
all its difficulties. Then there is a proof of its 
solution (in the production of the missing letter), 
and finally an account of the methods whereby 
the problem has been solved. { It is plain that 
the form of the problems is sufficiently various. 
The constant factor in the reader s intellectual 
enjoyment lies (apart from wonder, which cer 
tainly counts a little) in the swift and bracing 
gymnastic of following the mental processes that 
lead to the solutions. Our knowledge of the 
solutions does not in the least affect it. Our 
aesthetic pleasure, dependent first upon the lyrical 

164 



ANALYSIS 

and concrete inspiration of the whole, is due to 
the perfection of the conditions under which our 
mental gymnastic takes place. These tales share 
the conditions of beauty that belong to Euclid s 
propositions. There is nothing in them that is 
unnecessary, nothing merely baulking, no dead 
matter. In each case question and^answer are 
accurately balanced with each other. 1 The details 
of question and answer come in the right order ; 
that is to say, in the order most apt for the 
particular tale.l Our aesthetic enjoyment, then, 
is partly dependent upon plot, an element whose 
importance in story-telling Poe was one of the 
first to perceive. Plot does not mean the posing 
of a question and the keeping of its answer until 
the end of the story, although in the cruder 
forms of detective fiction it does manifest its 
presence in this way. We find ourselves, as 
so often throughout the book, turning to Poe s 
own statements of aesthetic theory : 

" Plot is very imperfectly understood, and has 
never been rightly defined. Many persons regard 
it as mere complexity of incident. In its most 
rigorous acceptation, it is that from which no 
component atom can be removed, and in which none 
of the component atoms can be displaced, without 
ruin to the whole; and although a sufficiently 
good plot may be constructed, without attention 
to the whole rigour of this definition, still it is 
the definition, which the artist should always keep 

165 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

in view, and always endeavour to consummate in 
his works." 

Many of Poe s best stories fulfil this definition s 
demands, though in few is their fulfilment so 
easily seen as in these. Plot, like composition in 
a picture, is the most recognisable mark of the 
analytic spirit s presence in creation. Reading 
again that part of Poe s definition which he has 
underlined, it is clear that there is no real differ 
ence between this manifestation of analysis and 
that which occurs in every work of art, even if it 
be without " plot " obvious as such. The same 
power that separates the contradictory, and 
rejects the irrelevant in the careful tending of 
a growing inspiration, helps the artist to this 
ruder proof of the unity of his work with itself. 
In this sense there is plot in all works of art. It 
is indeed a condition of their being. And it is 
wise to remember this while following Poe in his 
discussion of plot as the more plainly geometrical 
element of construction. He contrasts it with 
the less obvious manifestations of itself, as a man 
might well contrast the steel girders and ropes 
of a suspension bridge, beautiful in their direct 
explanation of themselves, written clear against 
the sky, with the solid curves of an older bridge 
whose lines of stress and strain are fleshed in 
stone, and overgrown with moss and fern. 

We must think of this when he says : 

166 



ANALYSIS 

" Plot, however, is at best an artificial effect, 
requiring, like music, not only a natural bias, but 
long cultivation of taste for its full appreciation ; 
. . . the absence of plot can never be critically 
regarded as a defect ; although its judicious use, 
in all cases aiding and in no case injuring other 
effects, must be regarded as of a very high order 
of merit." 

Forgetting it, this paragraph would be rubbish. 
Remembering it, we see that he points out that 
a delight in Bach is less facile than a delight in 
Wagner, and that in all cases construction is vain 
without an end. The bridge, iron or stone, must 
cross a river. The work of art must begin with 
an inspiration. 



167 



METAPHYSICS 



METAPHYSICS 

" METAPHYSICS," I learn from a respectable 
dictionary, are " that science which seeks to 
trace the branches of human knowledge to their 
first principles in the constitution of our nature, 
or to find what is the nature of the human 
mind and its relation to the external world ; the 
science that seeks to know the ultimate grounds 
of being or what it is that really exists, em 
bracing both psychology and ontology." Now 
psychology is the science of the soul and ontology 
that of being, and these were Poe s preoccupa 
tions rather than the more easily legible sciences 
of manners and appearances. 1 can fairly give 
this title to a chapter on the character of his 
researches and in particular on his book Eureka 
and a few of the dialogues, Monos and Una, 
Eiros and Charmion, and The Power of Words, 
in which these researches bear aesthetic fruit. 

We must beware lest in reading these things 
we forget, as he found it too easy to forget him 
self, the character of the man who wrote them. 
We must not mistake him, as he sometimes 

171 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

mistook himself, for a logician or a natural 
philosopher. /Toe was a man for whom abstract 
ideas very readily disintegrated into impressions^ 
He was at times an able acrobat on the trapezes 
and ladders of reasoning, but he was not a man 
for whom abstract reasoning could itself take on 
an aesthetic quality, as with Schopenhauer or 
Benedetto Croce, whose Theory of ^Esthetic 
is itself a beautiful work. This does not con 
tradict what was said in the last chapter. In 
the analytical tales he is finding beauty not in 
reasoning but in the reasoning mood. I pointed 
out there that analysis was the faculty in Poe 
which most readily obscured his possession of 
others. He seems almost to leave the bulk of 
himself behind when he comes to argue, and, 
consequently, his arguments, forgiven for their 
contexts, are always disappointing. This may 
seem ungracious speech of a man whose work is 
so fruitful in the minds of other men, whose work 
owes much of its importance to the ideas that 
underlie it. But we must remember that the 
ideas that have altered the attitude of artists of 
their art were more properly close observations 
on the nature and end of that art, due less to 
abstract reasoning than to a vivid and concrete 
perception of particular things. They are the 
observations of a man, himself an artist, made in 
those moments when, after close business upon 

172 



c 



METAPHYSICS 

his table, he lifts his head to look out at the 
stars in sudden enlightenment about what he 
has actually been doing. They are different in 
origin and kind from his reasonings on the cosmos 
engendered by reading Herschel on astronomy. 

In Poe s mind, I repeat, an abstract idea very 
readily disintegrated into impressions. It would, 
perhaps, be more exact to say that an abstract 
idea very readily set a direction to loose impres 
sions already floating there, and so gave them 
the vitality that made them expressive./ Poe 
leaps boldly from a scientific to a spiritual truth, 
often, with sublime carelessness, kicking aside 
the ladders of reason as he flies by a swifter path/ 
There is an excellent example in the conclusion 
of The Power of Words : 

" AGATHOS. I have spoken to you, Oinos, as 
to a child of the fair Earth which lately perished, 
of impulses upon the atmosphere of the Earth. 

" OINOS. You did. 

" AGATHOS. And while I thus spoke, did there / ^ 
not cross your mind some thought of the physical 
power of words ? Is not every word an impulse 
on the air ? 

" OINOS. But why, Agathos, do you weep 
and why, oh, why do your wings droop as we hover 
above this fair star, which is the greenest and yet 
most terrible of all we have encountered in our 
flight? Its brilliant flowers look like a fairy 
dream, but its fierce volcanoes like the passions 
of a turbulent heart. 

173 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

" AGATHOS. They are ! They are ! This wild 
star it is now three centuries since, with clasped 
hands, and with streaming eyes, at the feet of my 
beloved, 1 spoke it, with a few passionate 
sentences, into birth. Its brilliant flowers are 
the dearest of all unfulfilled dreams, and its 
raging volcanoes are the passions of the most 
turbulent and unhallowed of hearts." 

The abstract idea that a spoken sound 
communicates a deathless vibration to the atmo 
sphere is here cast suddenly aside for the bolder 
assumption that these vibrations are creative of 
something correspondent to the meaning of the 
sound, an assumption that no reasoning could 
uphold. Arid yet, as we read that final paragraph 
we feel that it is true, as true as " Cinderella," or 
the story of the mermaid who danced on knife- 
. blades and was turned into the foam of the sea. 
The truth of reason has been abandoned for the 
more luminous truth of poetry. 

In plunging into the scientific speculation of 
Eureka, Poe provides us with the spectacle of 
a man, accustomed to autocracy in his own 
domain, flinging himself into another arid con 
fidently expecting from it an equal pliability and 
obedience. We laugh at professors who turn 
to writing sonnets. We cannot laugh at Poe 
because, on the hard rocks of the professors world, 
he left so much of the gold he had brought with 
him from his own. 

174 



METAPHYSICS 

Sometimes, usually after these excursions, 
when it was already too late, he felt himself a 
foreigner, or at least had some misgiving about 
his right in that world. And then he would 
think of what he had done, perhaps remembering 
the scraps of gold, and become confident again. 
Such a mixture of doubt and belief dictated the 
preface to Eureka : 

66 To the few who love me and whom I love" 
to those who feel rather than to those who 
think to the dreamers and those who put faith 
in dreams as the only realities I offer this book 
of Truths, not in the character of Truth-Teller, 
but for the Beauty that abounds in its Truth, 
constituting it true. To these I present the com 
position as an Art-Product alone, let us say as 
a Romance ; or, if I be not urging too lofty a 
claim, as a Poem. 

" What I here propound is true : therefore it 
cannot die ; or if by any means it be now trodden 
down so that it die, it will rise again to the Life 
Everlasting. 

" Nevertheless, it is as a Poem only that I 
wish this work to be judged after I am dead." 

That little piece of prose has always seemed 

; to me a very moving embodiment of a great 

man s hesitation. It is hope almost throttled by 

fear and for that very reason raising its voice to 

I an unnatural pitch. He would have liked to 

quote the words of Kepler from the letter in the 

175 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

book : " / can afford to wait a century for readers 
when God himself has waited six thousand years 
for an observer. I triumph. I have stolen the 
golden secret of the Egyptians. I will indulge my 
sacred fury" But he dared not burn his boats. 
He asks us to consider Eureka as a poem 
or a romance, a work of art not science. It is 
indeed a De Rerum Natura, and a comparison 
with Lucretius is the readiest way to an under 
standing of Poe s failure. Lucretius, like Poe, 
is full of facts of science imperfectly understood. 
Long arguments about the void in things tempt 
a modern thinker to regard the work as vain that 
is based on such conceptions. But in Lucretius 
the spirit of the argument is the same as that 
which gloriously greets the creative spirit of the 
earth : 

" ^Eneadum genetrix, hominum divomque 

voluptas, 

alma Venus, cseli subter labentia signa 
quse mare navigerum, quse terras frugiferentes 
concelebras, per te quoniam genus omne ani- 

mantum 

concipitur visitque exortum lumina solis 
te, dea, te fugiunt venti, te nubila ceeli 
adventumque tuum, tibi suavis dasdala tellus 
summittit flores, tibi rident sequora ponti 
placatumque nitet diffuso lumine caelum." 

All is of a piece, and the outworn science 
retains its power over us in the veins of poetry 

176 



METAPHYSICS 

in which it flows, the white and scarlet cor 
puscles making blood between them. In Poe, 
this is not so. The reds and the whites are 
gathered in separate camps, and the whites have 
an unfortunate predominance. The two do not 
mingle. The book is at war with itself, and, 
consequently, fails as a work of art. It is not 
to the point to pick holes in Poe s knowledge of 
science, or even in the conduct of his argument, 
though several of his critics have thought that 
in so doing they were exposing the weakness 
of the book. Lucretius is all wrong, but his 
poem is all right. Even if Poe s science were 
invulnerable, it would still be the Achilles heel 
of his work, because it is at war with himself, at 
war with the poem he is trying to write, and so 
no more than dead matter whose existence eats 
like a canker into the vitality of what is left. 

But, in writing Eureka Poe went near the 
making of a great book. It was not mere 
fanaticism that led Baudelaire to translate it 
entire. It is not a poem, because it is a failure 
and every poem is a success. But it is a book 
whose patches of vitality are luminous with their 
special kind of truth, a lump of worthless rock 
with glittering gold caught in its crevices, a 
cluster of glow-worms on a piece of barren land. 
And these bright sparks must be gathered by 
any one who would understand the path Poe 

177 M 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

trod between earth and the stars. Moments of 
reasoning, and, far more often, fragments of 
poetry that have flung off reason to live in their 
own right, help us to see, perhaps more clearly 
than himself, since we are at a greater distance, 
what this man sought, and what was the cha 
racter of his search. 

In the letter that Poe prefixes to his argument, 
the letter written in the year two thousand eight 
hundred and forty-eight, and cruelly smudged 
with some of the worst of his attempted jokes, 
there is the promise of a book that would indeed 
have been the poem that Eureka was not. 
In the prefatory note, Poe had dedicated his 
book "to those who feel rather than to those 
who think to the dreamers and those who put 
faith in dreams as the only realities." Here he 
exclaims against the limitation of truth to what 
is arrived at by reasoning, or to collections of 
fact, " the impalpable, titillating Scotch snuff of 
detail." " No man," says the author of the letter, 
" dared to utter a truth for which he felt himself 
indebted to his soul alone." He points out, on 
the one hand, that reasoning is founded upon 
axioms and so upon nothing, and, on the other, 
that the " diggers and pedlars of minute facts " 
substitute natural science for metaphysics. He 
calls the philosophers to task for their " pompous 
and infatuate proscription of all other roads to 

178 



METAPHYSICS 

Truth than the two narrow and crooked paths 
the one of creeping and the other of crawling 
to which, in their ignorant perversity, they have 
dared to confine the Soul the Soul which loves 
nothing so well as to soar in those regions ot 3 
illimitable intuition which are utterly incognisant 
of path !" Then, like a flash, follows this 
sentence : " Is it not wonderful that they should 
have failed to deduce from the works of God the 
vitally momentous consideration that a perfect 
consistency can be nothing but an absolute truth?" 
Is not that the secret of art, the explanation of 
its value to mankind, far above that of the things, 
colours and lines that it may happen to represent 
or use ? Is not that the idea whose amplifica 
tion is Benedetto Croce s theory of aesthetic? 
Would not Blake in reading it have heard that 
the sons of the morning were shouting in heaven ? 
That it was not an accident, whose worth and 
meaning Foe had not recognised, is proved by 
this other paragraph from near the end of the 
book : 

"... And, in fact, the sense of the symmetrical 
is an instinct which may be depended upon with 
an almost blindfold reliance. It is the poetical \. 
essence of the Universe of the Universe which, 
in the supremeness of its symmetry, is but the 
most sublime of poems. Now, symmetry and 
consistency are convertible terms ; thus Poetry 

179 






EDGAR ALLAN POE 

and Truth are one. A thing is consistent in the 
ratio of its truth, true in the ratio of its con 
sistency. A perfect consistency r , / repeat, can be 
nothing but an absolute truth. We may take it 
for granted, then, that Man cannot long or widely 
err, if he suffer himself to be guided by his 
poetical, which I have maintained to be his 
truthful, in being his symmetrical, instinct. He 
must have a care, however, lest, in pursuing too 
heedlessly the superficial symmetry of forms and 
motions, he leave out of sight the really essential 
symmetry of the principles which determine and 
control them." 

How near in these few sentences, as in a 

hundred other places in his work, Poe comes to 

the enunciation of the truth that in the absolute 

unity of a work of art, a poem, or a picture, is 

\ an escape from the general flux of unconscious 

s living into the conscious and absolute life that 

lies above it. 

If, as he almost promised, he had kept to this 
path, or, rather, independence of path, towards 
the truth, Eureka might have been a smaller 
and better book, consistent with its author and 
with itself, and so really a poem that we could 
receive more graciously than, as I seem to be 
doing, by putting one hand behind us and only 
timidly advancing the other. 

But the bulk of Eureka is of a different 
texture, and, if we are to win any of the riches 

180 



METAPHYSICS 

that are hung haphazard upon it, we must under 
stand why we are not bound to consider it the 
most important, as it is the largest, part of the 
book. It has usually been so considered, and 
Poe has suffered in the resulting interpretation. 
More than one of his biographers, unable to 
distinguish dead from living flesh, has talked 
about Poe s" materialistic philosophy," and about 
Eureka as the book in which it has been 
imperfectly expressed. Nothing could be further 
from the truth. In every case where Poe s nature 
finds a lyrical expression, by which alone such 
a nature can be judged, his philosophy is of a 
consistent colour, quite different from the hard, 
sharp blacks and whites that a superficial reading 
of Eureka, that gave most prominence to the 
unsuccessful and inessential parts, would possibly 
suggest. 

We have noticed in the last chapter the 
exuberance of Poe s analytical faculty. We saw 
that he had more of it than was sufficient to the 
artist s purposes. We have seen him spending it 
in solving cryptograms, and in writing acrostics. 
Particularly we have seen him turn it to beauty 
in such tales as The Murders in the Rue 
Morgue, and The Purloined Letter. What 
could be a more natural misfortune than that, 
pleased with his power of reasoning from data, 
sure since arbitrary and his own, he should be 

181 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

over-confident in argument on data that he had 
at second hand, and that he should mistake its 
athletic exercise for something almost as trust 
worthy as his power of dreams. There comes to 
many men a period when reason seems in itself 
so strange and admirable as to usurp in them 
selves the thrones of those faculties that, unlike 
reason, have characters peculiar to their owners 
and therefore valuable. What happened to 
Shelley at eighteen happened to Poe at thirty- 
eight, unfortunately synchronising with and con 
tradicting his furthest development, instead of 
only spoiling youthful work that he might have 
been glad to see forgotten. It would be possible, 
in making a new mythology of the brain, to 
picture Godwin (not the author of Caleb 
Williams but the author of Political Justice) 
as a personification of the hard and active god 
who makes the brain an enemy of the heart, and 
refuses those moments of armistice in which are 
born the children of the beautiful. In Eureka 
there is a nervous effort to show that brain, going 
by the creeping and crawling ways that Poe has 
already contemned, reaches the same end as 
heart trusting to the poetical instinct which 
alone, as he said, is indeed worthy of faith. This 
quarrel of purposes is the reason of Eurekas 
failure. I should like to wipe out three-quarters 
of the book for the sake of the remainder. 

182 



METAPHYSICS 

Foe believed, after reading various writers on 
astronomy and the constitution of the cosmos, 
that the Universe was made by the flinging forth 
from a common centre of innumerable atoms, 
that, collecting towards individual centres, are, 
in a more general movement, again converging. 
But statistical arguments in support of this thesis 
are unnecessary for the exposition of the comple 
mentary idea that the soul of each man is a frag 
ment of the soul of God, and that the end of 
things will see the reabsorption of these million 
wandering Psyches into the one soul to which 
they all belong. Such arguments are worthless 
in comparison with such luminous points as this, 
for example, written as a postscript to the book : 

" The pain of the consideration that we shall 
lose our individual identity ceases at once when 
we further reflect that the process, as above 
described, is neither more nor less than the 
absorption by each individual intelligence of all 
other intelligences (that is, of the Universe) into 
its own. That God may be all in all, each must 
become God." 

Now that is a fine thought, and it is not alone 
in Eureka. But the" real value of the book is 
in its unfulfilled promise of inspired guesswork, 
its elevation of intuition above reasoning as a 
means of truth, and its explanation of the prin 
ciple of so doing as a trust in the poetical or 

183 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

symmetrical instinct, which, as we have already 
suggested, is no other than the feeling for the 
beautiful. 

It is not often that Poe pierces directly 
through his statistics. More often, in the meta 
physical dialogues as well as in Eureka, he 
reaches expression by leaving on one side the fog 
of ill-founded reasoning from which 

" Helpless, naked, piping loud, 
Like a fiend hid in a cloud," 

wails his dream of God and Man. " Come ! we 
will leave to the left the loud harmony of the 
Pleiades, and swoop outward from the throne 
into the starry meadows beyond Orion, where, 
for pansies and violets and heart s-ease, are the 
beds of the triplicate and triple-tinted suns." 
Whenever he forgets to substantiate his imagi 
nations by reference to works of science, when 
he keeps the promise of that much post-dated 
letter, he writes again and again pages of emo 
tional self-projection into those states of exist 
ence from which no traveller has yet returned to 
solve the problems of metaphysicians. 

These passages belong to art, not reasoning. 
Their truth accordingly is to be judged by them 
selves, and can neither be confuted nor sustained. 
I choose as example a part of the dialogue 
between Monos and Una, describing death and 

184 



METAPHYSICS 

the conditions of thought and feeling that suc 
ceed it, simplifying sensation until it no longer 
needs the senses, but is become an abstract feel 
ing of Time and Place that fills the void the 
worms have slowly eaten into existence. Monos 
is speaking : 

" Words are vague things. My condition did 
not deprive me of sentience. It appeared to me 
not greatly dissimilar to the extreme quiescence 
of him, who, having slumbered long and pro 
foundly, lying motionless and fully prostrate in 
a midsummer noon, begins to steal slowly back 
into consciousness, through the mere sufficiency 
of his sleep, and without being awakened by 
external disturbances. 

" I breathed no longer. The pulses were still. 
The heart had ceased to beat. Volition had not 
departed, but was powerless. The senses were 
unusually active, although eccentrically so 
assuming often each other s functions at ran 
dom. The taste and the smell were inextricably 
confounded, and became one sentiment, abnormal 
and intense. The rose-water with which your 
tenderness had moistened my lips to the last, 
affected me with sweet fancies of flowers fan 
tastic flowers, far more lovely than any of the 
old Earth, but whose prototypes we have here 
blooming around us. The eyelids, transparent 
and bloodless, offered no complete impediment 
to vision. As volition was in abeyance, the balls 
could not roll in their sockets, but all objects 
within the range of the visual hemisphere were 

185 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

seen with more or less distinctness : the rays 
which fell upon the external retina, or into the 
corner of the eye, producing a more vivid effect 
than those which struck the front or interior sur 
face. Yet, in the former instance, this effect 
was so far anomalous that I appreciated it only 
as sound sound sweet or discordant as the 
matters presenting themselves at my side were 
light or dark in shade, curved or angular in out 
line. The hearing, at the same time, although 
excited in degree, was not irregular in action, 
estimating real sounds with an extravagance of 
precision not less than of sensibility. Touch had 
undergone a modification more peculiar. Its 
impressions were tardily received, but pertin 
aciously retained, and resulted always in the 
highest physical pleasure. Thus the pressure of 
your sweet fingers upon my eyelids, at first only 
recognised through vision, at length, long 
after their removal, filled my whole being with a 
sensual delight immeasurable. I say with a sen 
sual delight. All my perceptions were purely 
sensual. The materials furnished the passive brain 
by the senses were not in the least degree 
wrought into shape by the deceased understand 
ing. Of pain there was some little ; of pleasure 
there was much ; but of moral pain or pleasure 
none at all. Thus your wild sobs floated into 
my ear with all their mournful cadences, and 
were appreciated in their every variation of sad 
tone ; but they were soft musical sounds and no 
more ; they conveyed to the extinct reason no 
intimation of the sorrows which gave them birth ; 
while the large and constant tears which fell 

186 



METAPHYSICS 

upon my face, telling the bystanders of a heart 
which broke, thrilled every fibre of my frame 
with ecstasy alone. And this was in truth the 
Death of which these bystanders spoke rever 
ently, in low whispers you, sweet Una, gasp 
ingly, with loud cries. 

" They attired me for the coffin three or four 
dark figures which flitted busily to and fro. As 
these crossed the direct line of my vision they 
affected me as forms ; but upon passing to my 
side their images impressed me with the idea of 
shrieks, groans, and other dismal expressions of 
terror, of horror, or of woe. You alone, habited 
in a white robe, passed in all directions musically 
about me. 

" The day waned ; and, as its light faded away, 
I became possessed by a vague uneasiness, an 
anxiety such as the sleeper feels when sad real 
sounds fall continuously within his ear low dis 
tant bell-tones, solemn, at long but equal inter 
vals, and commingling with melancholy dreams. 
Night arrived ; and with its shadows a heavy 
discomfort. It oppressed my limbs with the 
oppression of some dull weight, and was pal 
pable. There was also a moaning sound, not 
unlike the distant reverberation of surf, but more 
continuous, which, beginning with the first twi 
light, had grown in strength with the darkness. 
Suddenly lights were brought into the room, and 
this reverberation became forthwith interrupted 
into frequent unequal bursts of the same sound, 
but less dreary and less distinct. The ponderous 
oppression was in a great measure relieved ; and, 
issuing from the flame of each lamp, for there 

187 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

were many, there flowed unbrokenly into my 
ears a strain of melodious monotone. And when 
now, dear Una, approaching the bed upon which 
I lay outstretched, you sat gently by my side, 
breathing odour from your sweet lips, and press 
ing them upon my brow, there arose tremulously 
within my bosom, and mingling with the merely 
physical sensations which circumstances had 
called forth, a something akin to sentiment 
itself a feeling that, half appreciating, half 
responded to your earnest love and sorrow ; but 
this feeling took no root in the pulseless heart, 
and seemed indeed rather a shadow than a reality, 
and faded quickly away, first into extreme qui 
escence, and then into a purely sensual pleasure 
as before. 

" And now, from the wreck and chaos of the 
usual senses, there appeared to have arisen 
within me a sixth, all perfect. In its exercise I 
found a wild delight : yet a delight still physical, 
inasmuch as the understanding had in it no part. 
Motion in the animal frame had fully ceased. 
No muscle quivered ; no nerve thrilled ; no artery 
throbbed. But there seemed to have sprung up, 
in the brain, that of which no words could convey 
to the merely human intelligence even an indis 
tinct conception. Let me term it a mental pen 
dulous pulsation. It was the moral embodiment 
of man s abstract idea of Time. By the absolute 
equalisation of this movement, or of such as this, 
had the cycles of the firmamental orbs them 
selves been adjusted. By its aid I measured the 
irregularities of the clock upon the mantel, and 
of the watches of the attendants. Their tickings 

188 



METAPHYSICS 

came sonorously to my ears. The slightest 
deviations from the true proportion and these 
deviations were omniprevalent affected me just 
as violations of abstract truth were wont, on 
earth, to affect the moral sense. Although no 
two of the time-pieces in the chamber struck the 
individual seconds accurately together, yet I had 
no difficulty in holding steadily in mind the 
tones, and the respective momentary errors of 
each. And this this keen, perfect, self-existing 
sentiment of duration this sentiment existing 
(as" man could not possibly have conceived it to 
exist) independently of any succession of events 
this idea this sixth sense, upspringing from 
the ashes of the rest, was the first obvious and 
certain step of the intemporal soul upon the 
threshold of the temporal Eternity. 

"It was midnight ; and you still sat by my side. 
All others had departed from the chamber of 
Death. They had deposited me in the coffin. 
The lamps burned flickeringly ; for this I knew 
by the tremulousness of the monotonous strains. 
But, suddenly these strains diminished in dis 
tinctness and in volume. Finally they ceased. 
The perfume in my nostrils died away. Forms 
affected my vision no longer. The oppression 
of the Darkness uplifted itself from my bosom. 
A dull shock like that of electricity pervaded 
my frame, and was followed by total loss of the 
idea of contact. All of what man has termed 
sense was merged in the sole consciousness of > ; 
entity, and in the one abiding sentiment of dura- , 
tion. The mortal body had been at length 
stricken with the hand of the deadly Decay. 

189 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

" Yet had not all of sentience departed ; for the 
consciousness and the sentiment remaining sup 
plied some of its functions by a lethargic intui 
tion. I appreciated the direful change now in 
operation upon the flesh, and, as the dreamer is 
sometimes aware of the bodily presence of one 
who leans over him, so, sweet Una, I still dully 
felt that you sat by my side. So, too, when 
the noon of the second day came, I was not 
unconscious of those movements which displaced 
you from my side, which confined me within the 
coffin, which deposited me within the hearse, 
which bore me to the grave, which lowered me 
within it, which heaped heavily the mould upon 
me, and which thus left me, in blackness and 
corruption, to my sad and solemn slumbers with 
the worm. 

" And here, in the prison-house which has 
few secrets to disclose, there rolled away days 
and weeks and months ; and the soul watched 
narrowly each second as it flew, and without 
effort took record of its flight without effort 
and without object. 

" A year passed. The consciousness of being 
had grown hourly more indistinct, and that of 
mere locality had in great measure usurped its 
position. The idea of entity was becoming 
merged in that of place. The narrow space 
immediately surrounding what had been the 
body was now growing to be the body itself. 
At length, as often happens to the sleeper (by 
sleep and its world alone is Death imaged) at 
length, as sometimes happened on Earth to the 
deep slumberer, when some flitting light half 

190 



METAPHYSICS 

startled him into awakening, yet left him half 
enveloped in dreams so to me, in the strict 
embrace of the Shadow, came that light which 
alone might have had power to startle, the light 
of enduring Love." Men toiled at the grave in 
which I lay darkling. They upthrew the damp 
earth. Upon my mouldering bones there de 
scended the cofrin of Una. 

" And now again all was void. That nebulous 
light had been extinguished. That feeble thrill 
had vibrated itself into quiescence. Many lustra 
had supervened. Dust had returned to dust. 
The worm had food no more. The sense of 
being had at length utterly departed, and there 
reigned in its stead instead of all things, domi 
nant and perpetual, the autocrats Place " and 
^ime? For that which was not, for that which 
nad no form, for that which had no thought, for 
that which had no sentience, for that which was 
soulless, yet of which matter formed no portion 
for all this nothingness, yet for all this im 
mortality, the grave was still a home, and the 
corrosive hours, co-mates." 

In this noble passage is no scientific truth, but 
the truth of intuition, whose opposite may be no 
less true than itself, whose opposite might, in 
deed, be no less truthfully written by the same 
man in a different mood. This is the metaphysic 
of the poets, and the only one that can be the 
body-stuff of art. For in such passages, and for 
those in which he recognises the difference be 
tween their truth and that other truth that is 

191 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

sought by logic, between the innumerable facets 
of absolute truth, and the variable truth that is 
gleaned from facts whose absoluteness we can 
never know, is Poe to be valued. The activity of 
his mind was its own enemy. It made him pre 
hensile of scientific knowledge, while without the 
power of judging the rottenness or the strength 
of its branches. It hampered him by making 
him weakly deny the principles he had himself 
discovered, and seek to buttress his work with 
science and so to twist it into such a position 
that it needed buttressing. But, in fortunate 
moments of inspiration he trusted his own wings. 
Popular scientific books are left to the multitude 
for whom they are designed. Intuition is free 
and bold, trusting in its own truths. " A perfect 
consistency is an absolute truth," and is not 
obscured by argument. The Nebular Hypo 
thesis of Laplace, Kepler s Law, 

" The Atoms of Democritus 

And Newton s Particles of Light, 
Are sands upon the Red Sea shore 

Where Israel s tents do shine so bright." 



192 



FRAYED ENDS 



N 



FRAYED ENDS 

BEFORE proceeding to a summary that shall 
attempt a portraiture of Poe s mind, there are, 
as is natural in a book built on the plan I have 
followed, a few frayed ends to be considered. 

For example, I have not mentioned a small 
group of his writings that are less stories than 
studies, less studies than dreams of ideal rather 
than actual landscapes. They do not make up 
any great bulk in his work, but are proof of a 
delight in nature for her own sake, a proof that 
Poe shares Julius Rodman s pleasure, not only 
in watching natural scenery but in describing it. 
The Island of the Fay holds an allegory and a 
suggestion of nineteenth-century fairy tale, so 
delicate, so pretty, as to contrast strangely with 
what we recognise as the predominant, and too 
readily conclude were the invariable, colours of 
Poe s imagination. The Domain of Arnheim 
exalts landscape gardening, which Poe more 
than once set among the fine arts. Landor s 
Cottage is a sketch of what a poet s house 
should be. 

195 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

I had planned, earlier in the book, to quote 
two or three of Foe s descriptions of rooms, as 
I believe that few things are more expressive 
than rooms of the characters of their owners or 
designers. I refer the reader to the accounts of 
Poe s own homes in the biographical chapter, 
and then, with the licence given by the title of 
this, do now what I had meant to do before, 
letting the first of these imaginary rooms be 
the parlour of Landors Cottage. 

" Nothing could be more rigorously simple 
than the furniture of the parlour. On the floor 
was an ingrain carpet, of excellent texture a 
white ground, spotted with small circular green 
figures. At the windows were curtains of snowy 
white jaconet muslin : they were tolerably full, 
and hung decisively, perhaps rather formally, in 
sharp parallel plaits to the floor. The walls were 
papered with a French paper of great delicacy 
a silver ground, with a faint green cord running 
zigzag throughout. Its expanse was relieved 
merely by three of Julien s exquisite lithographs 
a trois crayons, fastened to the wall without 
frames. One of these drawings was a scene of 
Oriental luxury, or rather voluptuousness ; 
another was a carnival piece, spirited beyond 
compare ; the third was a Greek female head : 
a face so divinely beautiful, and yet of an ex 
pression so provokingly indeterminate, never 
before arrested my attention. 

"The more substantial furniture consisted 
196 



FRAYED ENDS 

of a round table, a few chairs (including a large 
rocking-chair) and a sofa, or rather settee ; 
its material was plain maple painted a creamy 
white, slightly interstriped with green the seat 
of cane. The chairs and table were to match ; 
but the forms of all had evidently been designed 
by the same brain which planned the grounds ; 
it is impossible to imagine anything more graceful. 
" On the table were a few books ; a large, 
square crystal bottle of some novel perfume ; a 
plain, ground-glass astral (not solar) lamp, with 
an Italian shade ; and a large vase of resplendently- 
blooming flowers. Flowers indeed, of gorgeous 
colours and delicate odour, formed the sole mere 
decoration of the apartment. The fireplace was 
nearly filled with a vase of brilliant geranium. 
On a triangular shelf in each angle of the room 
stood also a similar vase, varied only as to its 
lovely contents. One or two smaller bouquets 
adorned the mantel; and late violets clustered 
about the opened windows." 

Beside that wholesome symphony in lucid 
colour, let me set the room of Roderick Usher : 

" The room in which I found myself was very 
large and lofty. The windows were long, narrow, 
and pointed, and at so vast a distance from the 
black oaken floor as to be altogether inaccessible 
from within. Feeble gleams of encrimsoned 
light made their way through the trellised panes, 
and served to render sufficiently distinct the more 
prominent objects around; the eye, however, 
struggled in vain to reach the remoter angles of 

197 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

the chamber, or the recesses of the vaulted and 
fretted ceiling. Dark draperies hung upon the 
walls. The general furniture was profuse, com 
fortless, antique, and tattered. Many books and 
musical instruments lay scattered about, but 
failed to give any vitality to the scene. I felt 
that I breathed an atmosphere of sorrow. An 
air of stern, deep, and irredeemable gloom hung 
over and pervaded all." 

It is as if, in different moods, we had looked 
twice into the chamber of Poe s soul. 

Then, too, I should perhaps have spoken earlier 
of Poe s plagiarisms, of which much has been 
made, perhaps because he made so much of other 
people s. He disfigured his criticisms by continual 
accusations of this kind, and too often based his 
impeachments on supposed thefts from himself. 
Even the authors he admired, like Hawthorne, 
were not free from the supposition that they were 
indebted to Poe for some of their effects. It is 
an old proverb that sets a thief to catch a thief, 
and Poe was as sturdy a robber as Shakespeare. 
Rebukes of thievery come from him with a bad 
grace, since, if he coveted a flower in another 
man s garden, he did not hesitate in taking it, 
dyeing it, and planting it in his own. But, in 
spite of his furious accusations, his views on 
plagiary were, at bottom, sound. They are best 
summed up in the last paragraph of his reply to 

198 



FRAYED ENDS 

" Outis," who had defended Longfellow against 
him, and carried the war into his own country. 

" It appears to me that what seems to be the 
gross inconsistency of plagiarism as perpetrated 
by a poet, is very easily thus resolved : the poetic 
sentiment (even without reference to the poetic 
power) implies a peculiarly, perhaps, an abnor 
mally, keen appreciation of the beautiful, with 
a longing for its assimilation, or absorption, into 
the poetic identity. What the poet intensely ad 
mires becomes thus, in very fact, although only 
partially, a portion of his own intellect. It has 
a secondary origination within his own soul an 
origination altogether apart, although springing 
from its primary origination from without. The 
poet is thus possessed by another s thought, and 
cannot be said to take of it possession. But, in 
either view, he thoroughly feels it as his own, 
and this feeling is counteracted only by the 
sensible presence of its true, palpable origin in 
the volume from which he has derived it an 
origin which, in the long lapse of years, it is 
almost impossible not to forget for in the mean 
time the thought itself is forgotten. But the 
frailest association will regenerate it it springs 
up with all the vigour of a new birth its absolute 
originality is not even a matter of suspicion and 
when the poet has written it and printed it, and 
on its account is charged with plagiarism, there 
will be no one in the world more entirely 
astounded than himself. Now from what I have 
said it will be evident that the liability to acci 
dents of this character is in the direct ratio of 

199 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

the poetic sentiment of the susceptibility to the 
poetic impression ; and in fact all literary history 
demonstrates that, for the most frequent and 
palpable plagiarisms, we must search the works 
of the most eminent poets." 

Poe s politics, too, have so far had no place in 
this book. They were not elaborate, or more 
important to him than plain likes and dislikes. 
It was an ironic accident that connected his 
death with the polling-booth. He liked freedom 
and could not recognise it under a democracy. 
He disliked mobs because they imply at once 
brute force, and a kind of imprisonment of the 
brains of which they are composed. He disliked 
the word "progress," and indeed, most of the 
terms that are useful to political speakers. Poe s 
political views are very pleasantly expressed in 
Some Words with a Mummy, where, in a conver 
sation with a stripped and galvanised Egyptian 
Count, the civilisations of Egypt and America 
are compared. 

" We then spoke of the great beauty and im 
portance of Democracy, and were at much trouble 
in impressing the Count with a due sense of the 
advantages we enjoyed in living where there was 
suffrage ad libitum, and no king. 

" He listened with marked interest, and in 
fact, seemed not a little amused. When we had 
done, he said that a great while ago there had 
occurred something of very similar sort. Thirteen 

200 



FRAYED ENDS 

Egyptian provinces determined all at once to be 
free, and so set a magnificent example to the rest 
of mankind. They assembled their wise men, 
and concocted the most ingenious constitution it 
is possible to conceive. For a while they managed 
remarkably well ; only their habit of bragging 
was prodigious. The thing ended, however, in 
the consolidation of the thirteen states, with some 
fifteen or twenty others, in the most odious and 
insupportable despotism that ever was heard of 
upon the face of the Earth. 

" I asked what was the name of the usurping 
tyrant. 

" As well as the Count could recollect, it was 
Mob. 

" Not knowing what to say to this, I raised 
my voice, and deplored the Egyptian ignorance 
of steam." 



And now, I think, we may proceed to our 
conclusion. In examining severally the facets 
of Poe s mind, and the various activities that 
represent them, an observation must early have 
suggested itself, that the ideas sown by these 
activities carry us further than Poe carried them. 
We must also have noticed that the tempera 
mental character of Poe s writings is less important 
than their " fundamental brain- work." The Poe 
who thrills us is less exciting than the Poe who 
thinks, and even the tales and poems are of more 
than their face-value on that account. It seems 

201 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

almost an accident that the spirit which sought 
for its exercise so clear and rarefied an atmo 
sphere, should have found a home in that 
nocturnal grove. There is a quality in his 
work more universal than that of strangeness, 
a quality not of temperament but of brain. His 
temperament often found expression, his brain 
was seldom able to reach its far more difficult 
goal. He left us weird and shapely works of 
art, but, in the realm of thought, how much 
more often a blaze on a tree trunk showing that 
he had passed than a cleared path showing that 
he had passed with ease and been able to make a 
road. Yet it seems to me that these blazed tree 
trunks are the achievements that should keep his 
memory alive. He made a few beautiful things. 
So have others. But how few in the history of 
thought have tried to teach, even in broken 
speech, the secret of beautiful things, and the 
way not to their making only but to their under 
standing. It was to that end that Poe blazed 
his trees, and, when we see how often he mistook 
the road, we should remember in what a dense 
forest he was travelling, and how lonely was the 
pioneer. There is a most applicable saying in 
Coleridge s Table-talk : 

" To estimate a man like Vico, or any great 
man who has made discoveries and committed 
errors, you ought to say to yourself, e He did so 

202 



FRAYED ENDS 

and so in the year 1720, a Papist, at Naples. 
Now, what would he not have done if he had 
lived now, and could have availed himself of all 
our vast acquisitions in physical science ? " 

In estimating Poe, that is, in learning the bias 
and the personal background that we must know 
in order truly to read his thoughts, we must sub 
stitute for the year 1720 the year 1840, for 
Papist what we may imagine to have been his 
religion, and for Naples the peculiar America he 
knew. It would be humiliating to ourselves to 
try to rewrite the final sentence, substituting 
aesthetic for physical science. We could only 
say that if he lived to-day he would have the 
advantage of his own thought, matured and 
clarified by seventy years, passed from America 
to France, and France to England. Baudelaire 
and Pater in different ways, knowingly and 
unknowingly, as a disciple and in perfect inde 
pendence, do little more than blaze again the 
trees he had already marked. He would find in 
the aesthetic that underlies this account of him 
only his own ideas, his own path, made clearer 
perhaps by the felling of the forest trees, and the 
passage of others by the gaps through which he 
had to fight his way. 

His thinking and writing life covers the years 
between 1828 and 1849. In England the writers 
of that time were Dickens, Thackeray, Carlyle, 

203 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

Lytton, Disraeli, Tennyson and Elizabeth Barrett. 
Before the end the star of Robert Browning was 
rising in cloud. At the beginning the power of 
Byron had not yet fallen into its period of con 
tempt, the period that follows dynasties and 
writers alike with a momentary oblivion. Leigh 
Hunt was teaching the admiration of Keats and 
Shelley. Wordsworth and Coleridge were living. 
Christopher North was rioting in Blackwootfs. 
Hazlitt was writing his Life of Napoleon. 

In France these twenty years cover the second 
period of the Romantics. Lamartine, Hugo, 
Gautier, Dumas, Merimee, were writing the 
books in whose atmosphere Baudelaire was 
growing up to recognise in Poe something more 
than a chance literary affinity, and to do him 
the inestimable service of making him a French 
author. 

In America also there was a group of con 
siderable writers. And here we come suddenly 
on a fact that helps us to an understanding of 
the relations between Poe and his country. Poe 
did not know them. Hawthorne was writing 
his tales, Emerson his essays, Longfellow was 
pouring out his prose poetry. Lowell was be 
ginning. Of these men Poe attacked Long 
fellow for plagiarism, was on terms of acquaint 
anceship with Lowell, admired Hawthorne, and 
was very rude to Emerson. I have read a polite 

204 



FRAYED ENDS 

letter addressed to him by Hawthorne, and 
Lowell corresponded with him on such terms 
that Poe called him " My dear Mr. Lowell," and 
" My dear Friend," and signed himself " Most 
cordially Yours," and " Truly your friend." But 
the letters are concerned with business, with a 
new magazine and contributions to it. Poe 
flattered Lowell, and Lowell wrote a short life 
of Poe full of inaccuracies that, if Poe did not 
supply, he did not correct. But there seems to 
have been no interchange of ideas between them, 
or indeed between Poe and any other of the 
writers of his time. He had " avowed ill- 
feeling towards his brother authors," and for 
him Emerson walked not " with that pure intel 
lectual gleam diffused about his person like the 
garment of a shining one," but in the sulphurous 
fumes and the black cloak of the devil himself. 
Poe had no friend in an artist of his own strength. 
It is doubtful if he could have found one except 
in Hawthorne. He had no friend in a thinker 
of his own power. He was extraordinarily 
alone. 

The reason for this was manifold. Poe was 
without money, and so had but little time for 
friendship unconnected with his newspaper work, 
and none for those intellectual companionships 
that are rich in proportion to what is spent on 
them. His principles were opposed to those of 

205 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

his contemporaries. The theory of art that was 
j his staff of life held didacticism to be the unfor 
givable sin, and these writers were concerned 
with morality for its own sake. With them, 
except perhaps with Hawthorne, who used 
morality as an artistic background for his work, 
the making of beauty was secondary to the more 
obvious doing of good. Instead of making 
possibilities of life, they were intent on teaching 
how to live well. They held art to be the 
servant of the people, and Poe saw as little of 
" the people " as he could, and disliked what he 
saw. Their minds had all been lit by flying 
sparks from the French Revolution, which had 
never flamed for Poe. They were democrats or 
socialists, in the spirit if not in the letter. Poe 
held that " the People have nothing to do with 
the laws but to obey them." He could have no 
sympathy with the communists of Brook Farm* 
or with their friends. 

He was left, then, to the America that was 
not writing books of any importance. He found 
there some friendly journalists, who were sorry 
for him because, as one of them said, " he wrote 
with fastidious difficulty and in a style too much 
above the popular level to be well paid," and 
women poets, some of whom were very good to 
him, some quarrelled over their letters and his, 
and all suffered his protestations of love and 

206 



FRAYED ENDS 

poetry. He found also the firm affection of his 
own household, his mother-in-law and his wife, 
with their pets, a household that, whether at 
Fordham or elsewhere, was always a peaceful 
small citadel, held by these three against the 
world. 

But his loneliness was deeper than that of 
lacking friends for his head. There was a real, 
if undefined hostility between himself and the 
nation to which he belonged. And this is harder 
to explain. If, as M. Remy de Gourmont thinks, 
he was " instruit jusqu a 1 erudition," it would be 
possible to suppose that his loneliness was that 
of a scholar mistrusted by the uneducated. It 
is of moment to show that it was not so. His 
learning was a heap of dross and gold, the gold 
perhaps acquired in his school years, the dross 
accumulated haphazard, glittering like gold, and 
then suddenly betraying itself because he had 
been too hurried to follow the good advice of 
Quarles : 

" Use common-place books, or collections, as 
indexes to light thee to the authours, lest thou be 
abused : he that takes learning upon trust, makes 
him a faire cup-board with another s plate. He 
is an ill-advised purchaser, whose title depends 
more on witnesses than evidences." 

Collections of literary gossip, and scrap-books 
of fact and quotation were treated by him with 

207 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

as much confidence as original works, and used 
to throw on his own writings the light of a mid 
night oil that he had never burnt. He took this 
learning upon trust and it frequently exposed 
him. He leaned too heavily on the titles of 
books, and so, because Ver-Vert sounded incom 
prehensible, Cresset s immoral parrot, that died 
of an indigestion, shrieks its bad language among 
the books on Usher s table, Swedenborg s Heaven 
and Hell and Robert Flud s Chiromancy, in 
company almost as incongruous with it as that 
of the scandalised nuns in the convent where it 
lived. 

Learning was not the quality that kept him 
separate from his fellows. It is a thin veil at 
worst, that any scholar with a heart learns how 

tear aside. Poe s conflict with his nation was 
due to nothing that he had acquired, but to 
something in the character of his mind. I think 
it was due to a rather scornful pride. He felt 
that his intellect had been born free, while those 
about him always had been, and always would 
be, slaves. He knew that free intellects are rare, 
and he had the pride of the king s son brought 
up among the shepherds in the fairy tale. Only, 
while the shepherds were proud to admit their 
foundling s superiority, Americans, seeing that it 
carried no dower, were not. Their patronage 
increased his scorn. "That there were once 

208 



VV V. 





FRAYED ENDS 

seven wise men, " he wrote disdainfully, " is by 
no means an historical fact ; and I am rather 
inclined to rank the idea among the Kabbala." 
He could speculate without fear, his fellows 
never without a thought of the praise or the 
blame that would be given them by the black- 
robed ministers of public morality. Poe owned 
a higher censorship. He knew that he was 
nearer than they, alike to the earth and to the 
stars, and in all his work there is a breath of 
impatience with those who are never to under 
stand it. He felt himself surrounded by fools 
and deaf men, to whom he had to shout to be 
heard, and exaggerate to be even partially under- 
, stood. He was like a wolf chained by the leg 
1 among a lot of domesticated dogs.* While 
they were busy with their bones, giving honour 
to him who had the biggest, Poe wandered 
in fancy on mountain peaks and in wooded 
valleys, seeking food of a more intangible 
character, and honour that is better worth the 
winning. 

Both parties were conscious of the distinction 

he drew. It was perhaps through resentment of 

i his intellectual pride that his enemies seized so 

eagerly upon his drunkenness. It was a weapon 

* There is surely no need for me to tell Americans that I 
am not attacking their country for being like others. Perhaps 
there is a land where the chained wolves outnumber the 
domesticated dogs. But I do not know it. 

209 o 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

for them, and they were glad of it. For, as 
Baudelaire suggests, it is inconceivable that all 
American writers, except Poe, were angels of 
sobriety. Other men who drank excused them 
selves by their stupidity, and were forgiven. But 
Poe was so certain of his height above America, 
that, when ill-fortune set him below it, America 
was glad of the chance to trample on him. It 
is a common spectacle. We cannot forget a 
writer of our own times whose obvious intellectual 
superiority brought upon his sins a popular 
execration that would never have been poured 
on the crimes of a man of popular stupidity. 
" Come down you who sit upon Olympus talking 
with the Gods! You forget us, but we re 
member. You are lower than us. Let us teach 
you. Come down from Olympus ! Let us tread 
you in the mud as a punishment for your base 
ness, you who dared to look above it and com 
mune with the Gods we cannot see." 

There is no need here to recapitulate the stages 
of Poe s conquest by drink. We have followed 
them in the account of his life. Our only concern 
now is to notice that his drunkenness, such as 
it was, combined with his intellect, to separate 
him from the nation in whose country he 
happened to be born. He lived and worked like 
a man who knows that he is L hated. His mind 
must indeed have been strong to work even as 

210 



FRAYED ENDS 

calmly as it did. As he cut his way through the 
forest, to wake the Sleeping Beauty with a kiss, 
he was alone and worse than alone. Brambles 
coiled about him, holding him back, and black 
malicious snakes hung from the boughs before 
him, hissed in his face, and fastened on his wrists. 

Yet, throughout his short life (he was forty 
when he died), the development of his brain 
went on unhindered by the struggle in which he 
was engaged. There is a unity in his mind, 
whose principle is its loneliness and pugnacity; 
but there is also a unity in its growth. Not one 
of Poe s faculties seems to have been acquired 
before or after any other. He was born with 
the same number of facets with which he died. 
A broad glance at his work almost suggests that 
his exertions in all kinds were contemporaneous 
and parallel. A closer examination makes it 
clear that, though all facets were there, yet the 
light fell on them in an order that is not without 
interest. All might sparkle at any time, but one 
by one they became steadily luminous. 

The order in which the facets of Poe s mind 
shone out with particular luminosity, bears a 
close analogy to the stages, or planes of thought, 
through which passes the intellect of mankind. 
He began by writing poetry. Those moments 
of his life that seemed important to him were 
moments of intuition, when mood and picture 

211 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

fused into something with the power of creating 
in other minds a similar experience. Swiftly, 
during the few years that he spent chiefly on his 
verse, the power of analysis increased in him, 
modifying the work he was to do, and clarify 
ing what he had already done, in invariably sue 
cessful revision. The prose tales that followed 
the poetry show both these faculties reacting 
together with growing power. Analysis and 
intuition gave him a creative power, critical of 
itself, and so of others. In examining books 
and poetry not his own his practice began to 
systematise itself in theory. Simultaneously 
with the beginning of this theorising about 
aesthetic, the analytical faculty, too energetic 
for the work he gave it, became unruly and 
assumed an independent importance, wasting 
itself in the solving of puzzles, and, making use 
of the powers with which it had grown, delight 
ing him with trains of reasoning, and with tales 
in which analysis was itself given an aesthetic 
value. Reason, spasmodically at first, began to 
usurp the throne of art. Now it raised his art 
to its highest point, and, at the next moment, 
turned it to nothingness in forgetting its exist 
ence. Finally, he began to let argument satisfy 
him, and let intuition atrophy for lack of use. 
Theory became too powerful to allow itself the 
suppleness that would have kept it true. He 

212 



FRAYED ENDS 

was obliged to turn for inspiration to old intui 
tions, and stifled them beneath a skill too self- 
opinionated to be careful of them. So far Poe 
had gone when he died. He had traversed all 
the stages of man s mind. Perhaps he chose the 
right time for his death. He had completed the 
circle, like a civilisation. Perhaps nothing was 
left for him but the decay of Babylon or Greece. 
It may have been time for the sand to rise 
over the ruins. On the other hand, he died 
with a knowledge of the mind s biography that 
could have given his speculations a weight they 
seldom possessed. He stood upon the mountain 
top, tired out by his climb; but he could see 
below him the pathway he had trod, and the 
author of Monos and Una and The Power of 
Words might have gone on to write a series of 
such dialogues, freed of the old contradictions 
between their parts, dialogues in which reason 
ing was indeed emotional and dream one in 
texture with the emotional reasoning. He 
might have reviewed the work of his life, and 
revealed, seventy years ago, the theory of the 
beautiful to which his ideas so constantly 
approach, and, by seeming accident or the 
blindness of hurry, so constantly deny. If he 
had had but the time to do this, his work would 
not have been so frequently mispraised. But 
he struck his blows as he went, driven or fight- 

213 



V 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

ing ; he was never able to return and widen the 
breaches he had made. Man after man has felt 
in reading single groups of his work that a 
powerful force was passing, and, noting its 
momentary direction, remained ignorant of its 
general trend. Few men have been so irrele 
vantly praised and blamed. Few men have been 
so single-minded in their aim. Foe, who could 
have been a great man of business,* a great 
mathematician, a great thinker, a great artist, 
was none of these things, failing in life, but 
seeking, down every turning that presented 
itself, for that scrap of knowledge concerning 
beauty and the aesthetic life of man, which might 
there be possibly concealed. His work, as it is 
left to us, is made up of observations and finds, 
by the way, each one modified by the blind 
alley, high road, or field path that he happened 
to be pursuing at the time. It is embedded in 
rubbish and beautiful things, verse with the 
jewelled wings of tropic moths, hoarse-throated 
critical articles calming again and again into 
passages of invaluable wisdom, dialogues as 
unforgettable as Leopardi s, a prose book in 
which argument and mysticism battle together 
to a common end, tales that are like Defoe s, 
tales that are like Lytton s, tales whose flavour 

* No one can doubt this who observes his management of 
the various magazines that passed under his control. 

214 



FRAYED ENDS 

is that of the most delightful of Euclid s pro 
positions, and others by whose colouring, because 
it is easily recognised, I suppose he will always 
be chiefly remembered. Beside the whole mass, 
I believe he would have written, like the painter 
beneath his picture, " Hoc faciebat." He was 
doing this, while, all the time, his eyes were 
seeking in the gloom the lamp that, though he 
found it again and again, he was never able to 
take from its altar and carry home with him for 
the enlightenment of humanity. 



215 



POSTSCRIPT : THE FRENCH 
VIEW OF POE 



POSTSCRIPT: THE FRENCH 
VIEW OF POE 

IT has been said that the best of Poe s works 
was Charles Baudelaire. As in most bold 
splashes of exaggeration, there is a drop of 
truth in this. Three volumes out of the eight 
that hold Baudelaire s collected works are filled 
with translations from Poe. It is not an in 
frequent surprise to find, on turning Baudelaire s 
own opinions into English, that, with little more 
than accidental alteration, they are written in 
Poe s words. Through those translations, and 
the writings and emulations they inspired, Poe 
has become a French writer. Byron and Shake 
speare are read through glasses that look across 
the Channel. Poe is read as if he were a native. 
His influence, as M. Remy de Gourmont points 
out, is far greater than that of Shelley, or even 
of Rossetti, whose Latin genius might have 
expected a readier welcome. Every year new 
monographs and new translations are published. 
He is a " popular " writer as well as one whose 
critical influence has run through the veins of 

219 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

French literature. This month * the Mercure de 
France, that feeds the most intellectual French 
public, has issued a new version of the poems. 
Last month Poe was the subject of the twenty- 
seventh number of the Portraits d hier, a little 
bi-monthly, twopence-halfpenny, bookstall sheet. 
I have a list of the first twenty-four numbers of 
the Portraits dhier ; no Englishman or American, 
and Wagner, Ibsen, Goethe and Beethoven alone, 
among foreigners, appear in it. Here is a list 
of some of Poe s translators, beside Baudelaire 
and Mallarme : E. D. Forgues, W. Hughes, 
E. Goubert, H. Page s, L. Lavergnolle, E. Hen- 
nequin, E. Guillemin, F. JRabbe, C. Simond, 
G. Mourey, J. H. Rosny, C. Demblon, V. Orban. 
There are others, and a still larger list could be 
made of the essays and books on Poe that I have 
seen in the Bibliotheque Nationale and elsewhere, 
some few of which shall presently help us in 
drawing a portrait of Poe, the French writer. 

I set down these facts as the readiest means of 
making clear how firm is Poe s position in France, 
how different from that of any other English 
author. I wished to do this before examining in 
detail what this position is, and how it came to 
be so securely held. 

To discover the original colours of that vision 
of Poe that caught French eyes, filled them, and 

* June 1910. 
220 



THE FRENCH VIEW OF POE 

remained undisturbed there until quite recent 
years, we must consider Baudelaire as the shop- 
window through which Frenchmen saw Poe and 
his works. We must examine the character of 
the glass and allow for its texture and formation, 
as we should allow for reflection and refraction 
in looking ourselves through a window at any 
bright-coloured object within. Baudelaire him 
self has suffered from such a glass. Prejudice 
and hearsay have made it difficult for those who 
read him, and impossible for those who do not, 
to see in him other than a sinister, opium or 
haschisch-drunken creature, the lover of a black 
woman, a kind of elaborate Villon. Lee- 
Hamilton s excellent sonnet represents the tra 
ditional portrait. I quote it here for its own 
sake : 

" A Paris gutter of the good old times, 

Black and putrescent in its stagnant bed, 
Save where the shamble oozings fringe it red, 
Or scaffold trickles, or nocturnal crimes. 

" It holds dropped gold ; dead flowers from tropic 

climes ; 
Gems true and false, by midnight maskers 

shed; 
Old pots of rouge; old broken phials that 

spread 

Vague fumes of musk, with fumes of slums and 
slimes. 

221 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

" And everywhere, as glows the set of day, 

There floats upon the winding fetid mire 
The gorgeous iridescence of decay : 

" A wavy film of colour gold and fire 

Trembles all through it as you pick your way, 
And streaks of purple that are straight from 
Tyre." 

It is a true enough picture of the superficial 
appearance of a selection from Baudelaire s poetry, 
made by tradition, which will never forget that 
Les Fleurs du Mai cost their author a prosecu 
tion and a fine. It is also a delightful piece of 
colour, but, if Baudelaire had been that and no 
more, he would not have translated Poe. Is there 
anything in The Murders in the Rue Morgue that 
could move in such a man "une commotion 
singuliere " ? I think not. We must correct 
that portrait by setting beside it a prose poem 
writted by Baudelaire himself: 

" Qui aimes-tu le mieux, homme enigma- 
tique, dis ? ton pere, ta mere, ta sceur ou ton 
frere ? 

" Je n ai ni pere, ni mere, ni sceur, ni frere. 

" Tes amis ? 

" Vous vous servez la d une parole dont le 
sens m est reste jusqu a ce jour inconnu. 

_Ta patrie ? 

" J ignore sous quelle latitude elle est situe e. 

" La beaute ? 

222 



THE FRENCH VIEW OF POE 

" Je Faimerais volontiers, deesse et immor 
telle. 

_ L or ? 

" Je le hais comme vous haissez Dieu. 

" Eh ! qu aimes tu done, extraordinaire 
Stranger ? 

" J aime les nuages . . . les nuages qui 
passent ... la bas ... les merveilleux nuages." 

Baudelaire was more than a dead thing whose 
decay was lit with iridescent colours. Like the 
stranger of his poem, he loved " the clouds . . . 
the clouds that pass . . . yonder . . . the mar 
vellous clouds," and all else that freed the 
intellect, that dissolved (impossible but in a 
delightful hallucination) the ties between the 
spirit and the earth. Poe s detective story begins 
with a few paragraphs of analysis that set the key 
for the rest, somewhere in the immaterial regions 
of geometry. Baudelaire s admiration for Poe 
opens on this note, repeated again and again. 
He found in Poe, first a liberator of the spirit, 
and then himself as he thought he was or 
might be. 

The Murders in the Rue Morgue was adapted 
and translated independently by two French 
writers in 1846. The papers in which these 
versions appeared fought over their rights, and 
Baudelaire learnt in this manner the name of the 
author whose tale had so moved him. I give his 

223 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

own account of what followed, from a letter to 
Armand Fraisse : 

" Je puis vous marquer quelque chose de plus 
singulier et de presque incroyable. En 1846 ou 
1847, j eus connaissance de quelques fragments 
d EdgarPoe: j eprouvai une commotion singuliere. 
Ses ceuvres completes n ayant ete rassemblees 
qu apres sa mort, en une edition unique, j eus la 
patience de me Her avec des Americains vivant a 
Paris, pour leur emprunter des collections de 
journeaux qui avaient ete diriges par Edgar Poe. 
Et alors, je trouvai, croyez moi si vous voulez, 
des poemes, et des nouvelles, dont j avais eu la 
pensee, mais vague et confuse, mal ordonnee, et 
que Poe avait su combiner et mener a la per 
fection." 

M. Remy de Gourmont thinks there is an 
exaggeration in this statement, that Baudelaire 
had to seek Poe s work in copies of American 
papers. He points out that Tales of the Grotesque 
and Arabesque had appeared in 1839. But that 
fact, even if Baudelaire knew it, does not affect 
the real interest of the paragraph. Baudelaire 
recognised in Poe something of his own soul, 
and came swiftly to believe that this American 
writer held the key to his own development. 
As time went on and he added tale by tale 
to his bulk of translated work, Poe seems to 
have assumed a still greater significance for him. 
In Mon cceur mis a nu he writes, " De Maistre 

224 



THE FRENCH VIEW OF POE 

et Edgar Poe m ont appris a raisonner," and 
registers this resolve : " Faire tous les matins ma 
priere a Dieu, reservoir de toute force et de toute 
justice, a mon pere, a Mariette, et a Poe, comme 
intercesseurs." I am reminded of that fine 
theatrical creed of Bernard Shaw s artist in The 
Doctor s Dilemma. 

The translation of Poe meant more for Baude 
laire than the rendering of a good foreign writer 
into his own language. His feelings were not far 
different from those of an impassioned believer 
translating the New Testament. Swinburne s 
enthusiasm for Victor Hugo was not so 
violent. 

Stephane Mallarme, who did for the poems 
what Baudelaire did for the prose, suggests that 
Baudelaire found the inspiration of Le Flambeau 
Vivant in the last lines of To Helen. I give the 
French poem and the lines from Poe, as an 
example of the kind of echoes that so often 
startle Baudelaire s readers. 

"... Only thine eyes remained : 
They would not go they never yet have gone ; 
Lighting my lonely pathway home that night, 
They have not left me (as my hopes have) 

since ; 
They follow me they lead me through the 

years ; 

They are my ministers yet I their slave ; 
Their office is to illumine and enkindle 

225 p 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

My duty to be saved by their bright light, 
And purified in their electric fire, 
And sanctified in their elysian fire ; 
They fill my soul with beauty (which is hope), 
And are, far up in heaven, the stars I kneel to 
In the sad, silent watches of my night ; 
While even in the meridian glare of day 
I see them still two sweetly scintillant 
Venuses, unextinguished by the sun." 

Le Flambeau Vivant (No. xliv. of the Fleurs 
du Mai}. 

66 Us marchent devant moi, ces Yeux pleins de 

lumiere, 

Qu un Ange tres-savant a sans doute aimantes ; 
Us marchent, ces divins fr&res qui sont mes 

freres, 
Secouant dans mes yeux leurs feux diamante s. 

" Me sauvant de tout piege et de tout peche 

grave, 

Us conduisent mes pas dans la route du Beau ; 
Us sont mes serviteurs et je suis leur esclave ; 
Tout mon etre obeit a ce vivant flambeau. 



" Charmants Yeux, vous brillez de la clarte 

mystique 
Qu ont les cierges brulant en plein jour ; le 

soleil 

Rougit, mais n eteint pas leur flamme fantas- 
tique ; 

226 



THE FRENCH VIEW OF POE 

" Us celebrent la Mort, vous chantez le Reveil, 
Vous marchez en chantant le reveil de mon ame, 
Astres dont nul soleil ne peut fldtrir la 
flamme ! " 

Although that poem justly takes its place in 
Baudelaire s original works, it may let us into 
the secret of his understanding of Poe, of the 
personal vision of him that he scarcely tried to 
impress upon the French nation. It is the 
intention of Poe, freed from preoccupations. 
For Baudelaire, Poe was the man who refused 
all but the beautiful in art, who recognised no 
other goal than beauty. Beside this idea all 
others fade away, or are pushed out of sight 
under any of the purple or rusty gold curtains 
that may be hung about the room or over the 
couches of aesthetic contemplation. But in the 
criticisms that moulded the French view of Poe, 
the curtains were allowed more influence than 
was their due. Poe was a lover of the beautiful 
for its own sake, such a worshipper as Baudelaire 
felt himself, but in writing about him, in propa 
gating an interest in him in a country where he 
was not known, it was tempting to make a pic 
turesque view of his life, and tempting, too, to 
overlay that reason for his admiration with others 
more likely to be generally recognised. It is 
impossible not to feel the eagerness to persuade 
in such a description of Poe s excellence as this : 

227 




EDGAR ALLAN POE 

" Ce n est pas par ses miracles materials, qui 
pourtant ont fait sa renommee, qu il lui sera 
donne de eonquerir 1 admiration des gens qui 
pensent, c est par son amour du Beau, par sa 
connaissance des conditions harmoniques de la 
beaute, par sa poesie profonde et plaintive, 
ouvragee neanmoins, transparente et correcte 
comme un bijou de cristal par son admirable 
style, pur et bizarre, serre comme les mailles 
d une armure, complaisant et minutieux, et 
dont la plus legere intention sert a pousser 
doucement le lecteur vers un but voulu, et 
enfin surtout par ce genie tout special, par ce 
temperament unique qui lui a permis de peindre 
et d expliquer, d une maniere impeccable, saisis- 
sante, terrible, t exception dans tordre moral 
Diderot, pour prendre un exemple entre cent, 
est un auteur sanguin ; Poe est 1 ecrivain des 
nerfs, et meme de quelque chose de plus et le 
meilleur que je connaisse." 

But Baudelaire had an almost equal admiration 
for another man, a painter, and his picture of 
Poe was tinted by his love of Delacroix. Eugene 
Delacroix was the great painter of the Romantic 
group, who found in Dante, Byron and Shake 
speare, a palette of smoking colours, the sul 
phurous yellows, stagnant greens, and Tyrian 
purples, that Baudelaire preferred for the paint 
ing of his soul. His passion for these two men 
fused in his mind, and when he wrote 

" Comme notre Eugene Delacroix, qui a deve 
228 



THE FRENCH VIEW OF POE 

son art a la hauteur de la grande poesie, Edgar 
Poe aime a agiter ses figures sur des fonds 
violatres et verdatres, ou se revelent la phosphor 
escence de la pourriture et la senteur de Forage " 

he made it hard for Frenchmen to see as much 
in Poe as he saw himself. He must have been 
thinking of "Dante et Vergile conduits par 
Phlegias," with its agonised figures in the gloomy 
sea and the burning city in the clouds behind. 
Delacroix s painting makes the setting of the 
picture terrible to those who do not know the 
poem, while to those who do, something, perhaps 
Dante, seems to have passed away. Poe suffered 
in a similar way. The colouring of his tales, lit 
up by this comparison, blinded his readers, and 
for some time he was read for his colouring 
alone. 

I suppose the popular French idea of Poe, the 
description of him that would be given by a 
Frenchman who had not read him to another 
who inquired about him, may be best learnt 
from Larousse, that delightful illustrated dic 
tionary that has a word for everybody, and tells 
us that Shakespeare was " the author of a great 
number of tragedies and comedies regarded for 
the most part as masterpieces." Larousse 
labels Poe as " ecrivain Americain d une imagina 
tion dereglee, auteur des Histoires Ewtraordi- 
naires" That description too often suffices in 

229 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

England. It did not long suffice the critical 
mind in France. 

Baudelaire died in 1867. In 1875 Stephane 
Mallarme published a translation of The Raven, 
and later an almost complete version of the 
poetical works of Poe. Though Baudelaire pre 
faced The Philosophy of Composition with a 
version of The Raven he held that a fitting trans 
lation of the poems was impossible. He felt, like 
Shelley, " the vanity of translation ; it were as 
wise to cast a violet into a crucible that you 
might discover the formal principle of its colour 
and odour, as seek to transfuse from one lan 
guage into another the creations of a poet. The 
plant must spring again from its seed, or it will 
bear no flower and this is the burthen of the 
curse of Babel." Perhaps, like Croce, he saw that 
" every translation either diminishes and spoils ; 
or it creates a new expression, by putting the 
former back into the crucible and mixing it with 
other impressions belonging to the pretended 
translator."* "Dans le moulage de la prose 
applique a la poesie, il y a necessairement une 
affreuse imperfection ; mais le mal serait encore 
plus grand dans une singerie rimee." Mallarme, 
conscious of his daring, produced a version of 
the poems in a rhythmic prose of whose beauty 
an inadequate example has been given in a stanza 

* Theory of ^Esthetic. Translated by Douglas Ainslie. 
230 



THE FRENCH VIEW OF FOE 

from La Dormeuse, printed earlier in the book. 
Mallarme s translation contains the following 
poems : Le Corbeau, Stances a Helene (" Helen, 
thy beauty is to me "), Le Palais Hante, Eulalie, 
Le Ver Vainqueur, Ulalume, Un Reve dans un 
Reve, A Quelquun au Paradis, Ballade de Noces, 
Lenore, Annabel Lee, La Dormeuse, LesCloclies, 
Israfel, Terre de Songe, A Helene, Pour Annie, 
Silence, La bailee d Inquietude, La Cite en la 
Mer ; and, under the heading of " Romances et 
Vers d Album," La Romance, Eldorado, Un 
Reve, Stances, Feerie, Le Lac, A la Riviere, 
Chanson, a M.L.S., A ma mere, a F.S.O., a P., 
Sonnet a la Science, Le Colisee, A Zante. From 
the date of this volume s publication French 
readers have been able to obtain all the best of 
Poe s prose and verse, in their own language, and 
written by consummate artists. 

With this mass of work before them French 
critics began to see Poe with independent eyes. It 
is possible to read a man for a long time with 
a preconceived and erroneous idea of the quality 
that causes your admiration. If you have read 
him so, there grows up slowly a vague dissatisfac 
tion with yourself and him. It is the business and 
happiness of a critic to trace this dissatisfaction 
to its source, and so to free other minds for a 
truer understanding of their enjoyment. Several 
critics have become dissatisfied with the lack of 

231 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

proportion between the pleasure or intellectual 
excitement they have had from Poe, and the 
skilful technique and phosphorescent colouring, to 
which they had been accustomed to attribute it. 
New Poes, other masks, have been made, which, 
taken with the old, suggest a closer approximation 
to the truth. 

M. Camille Mauclair, in one of the essays in a 
most interesting book, TArt en Silence,* after 
noting that no one has been more methodically 
unhappy than Poe (a very suggestive remark), 
discovers that Poe the thinker is more important 
than Poe the story-teller. I give his ideas as they 
are, not without rejoicing in the exaggeration 
that is necessary to balance the older conception. 
He writes : 

" Quand nous avons lu un conte de Poe, nous 
n avons pas oublie Funivers visible pour errer un 
instant au pays des songes ; nous avons tire un 
nouveau motif de songe et de la contemplation 
plus attentive de ce qu il y a autour de nous. 
Nous avons en quelque sorte augmente notre 
idealisme par les procede s du materialisme lui- 
meme." 

He notices that Poe, unlike other fantastic 
writers, does not ask us to admire ingenious 
combinations of bizarre episodes. " L imagina- 
tion de Poe procede du simple au profond et de 

* Paris, 1901. 
232 



THE FRENCH VIEW OF POE 

1 ordinaire a 1 inquietant." I remember, in 
parenthesis, Flaubert s remark that " fine sub 
jects make mediocre works," and give it a new 
application. 

Finally, M+ Mauclair thinks of Poe " qu il fut 
un esprit mystique et non critique ; que sa raison 
pure etait inversement proportioned a sa raison 
pratique ; que la solidarity du genie et du malheur 
le constitua tout entier ; que Tart lui fut non 
point un but, mais un moyen temporaire de son 
idealisme ; qu on doit avant tout le considerer 
comme un philosophe." He suggests that Poe 
was working towards the production of a great 
book, for which his tales were only prolegomena. 
It is indeed possible that, if Poe had lived and 
written such a book, he would have thought that 
such had been his intention, and wished others 
to think so too. But we must remember that 
Poe was not such a man except at moments of 
his career ; and, that, whatever he was, that he 
had always been. In one mood he* would certainly 
have agreed with M. Mauclair ; in another, with 
Baudelaire. He would have been grateful for M. 
Mauclair s opinion when he was writing Eureka. 
He would have buttressed himself on Baudelaire s 
when, having written it, he nervously added the 
little preface that asks for its consideration as a 
poem. 

In a book published three years after M. 
233 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

Mauclair s are a series of Marginalia on Poe and 
Baudelaire that suggest yet another mask, and 
another incarnation.* M. Remy de Gourmont 
is one of the subtlest and most liberating of the 
school of writers grouped about the Mercure de 
France. He is a critic whose pleasure it is to 
toss doubts into the air, catch them and throw 
them up again as dogmas. His books breathe an 
exalted freedom that is only to be won by climb 
ing, and he compels his readers to rise as high as 
himself by continually cutting the ground from 
beneath their feet. I am thinking of the flpnder- 
ful Une Nuit au Luxembourg, when Christ 
walked in the gardens behind the Odeon, and 
the winter night was a summer morning on which 
the young journalist, who had dared to say " My 
friend " to the luminous unknown in the Church 
of Saint- Sulpice, heard him proclaim the for 
gotten truth, that men have once called him 
Apollo, and that, in one age, his mother had been 
Mary, and, in another, Latona. It is a noble 
book, an apotheosis of the critical spirit, piercing 
false skies one by one, and carrying its reader 
higher and higher on the wings of a curiously 
disinterested speculation. I write this as a de 
scription of the glass through which, in M. Remy 
de Gourmont s Marginalia, we look at Poe. 
Is it surprising that such a man should find, 

* Remy de Gourmont: Promenades Litteraires. Paris, 1904. 

234 



THE FRENCH VIEW OF FOE 

on the one hand, that " les contes ne sont que la 
moitie d Edgar Foe, les po&mes le contiennent 
tout entier," and, on the other, " que sa meilleure 
definition serait celle-ci : un grand esprit critique." 
He mentions the definition in my beloved 
Larousse, pointing out that it would serve as 
well for Baudelaire, Chateaubriand, Goethe, 
Dante, or Flaubert, and continues, " Rien de 
plus absurde que d opposer Fesprit createur a 
1 esprit critique." M. Remy de Gourmont has 
shown the absurdity of the supposed opposition 
in his d^n books, that most obviously combine 
the two. Foe had shown it before him, and, 
almost as Foe would have said it, he adds, 
" Sans la faculte critique, il n y a point de 
creation possible ; on n a que des poetes chan- 
teurs, comme il y a des oiseaux chanteurs." 

There seems to be enough of Foe to go round. 
Three men as various as Baudelaire, Mauclair 
and Gourmont can find in him reflections of 
themselves. And beneath them a host of other 
writers impotently repeat the old lessons, or 
busy themselves with his life and explanations 
of his life. M. Arvde Barine considers Foe 
among his Poetes et Nev?*oses in company with 
Gerard de Nerval and Hoffmann. Barbey 
d Aurevilly had long before made a similar 
comparison. M. Alphorise Seche writes an 
account of his life, including the exploded bubble 

235 



EDGAR ALLAN POE 

of his journey to St. Petersburg. M. Paul 
Delaunay, Interne des Hopitaux de Paris, dis 
cusses him in a pamphlet that he shares with 
Hoffmann, called Alcooliques et Nevroses. M. 
Teodor de Wyzewa, after talking of " ces vers, 
les plus magnifiques, a mon gre, de tous ceux qui 
existent dans la langue anglaise," defends his 
character; a vain and empty task. M. Emile 
Lauvriere, as a " These presentee pour le 
Doctorat a la Faculte des Lettres de FUniversite 
de Paris," writes two volumes on Un Genie 
Morbide, one on the life of Poe, founded on 
Woodberry, and the other a rather dull and 
sightless criticism on his works. Finally, M. 
Emile Hennequin, as long ago as 1889, included 
Poe with Dickens, Heine, Turgenev, Dostoievski 
and Tolstoy, among his Ecrivainsfrancises. 

Poe is indeed, far more than Dickens, an 
" ecrivain francise," and perhaps this tumult of 
criticism, awakened by the French writer, may 
teach us to understand the American. It should 
at least widen our conception of him, and show 
that he too is among the great men with a 
meaning for more than one age, and for men of 
more than one temperament. It clears away 
those difficulties of language that stood between 
himself and us, obscuring him in our narrow 
eyes, like the provincial manners that, before 
now, have often blinded Londoners to a great 

236 



THE FRENCH VIEW OF POE 

man s worth. It destroys prejudices and cleans 
our spectacles. And the cleaning of spectacles 
is one of the highest services that the intellect of 
a man or of a nation can give to the intellect of 
another. 



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